Sophie's Glass

Amongst the many things I’m still adjusting to about my new life is the come down. This year I’ve gone on three sales trips of 3-4 weeks duration, with a few jaunts betwixt. Though I’ve lived in Colorado for almost a year, I’ve spent less than 8 months here. Readying myself for a long period away comes with a mixture of excitement and dread. Seeing new cities and meeting new people is thrilling. Each trip promises fresh adventure, and I’ve not been disappointed yet. But the prospect of leaving my peaceful duplex, my cats, my man, and my routines comes with a sense of loneliness. Will I always be a traveler? Maybe. My mom was like that, and the longer I live, the more akin to her I feel. I’m never ready to go, but I dutifully don my sales hat (metaphor — I don’t really own a sales hat), practice my smiles in the mirror, pack my bags, and hit the road.

By the end, I’m ready to come home. Under-rested, over-stimulated, roiling with tales of adventure, I rush to the airport, day dreaming about the first glimpse of my dude waiting at the baggage claim, the first long night of sleep, a cat flanking either side. The first couple of days back are as blissful as you’d imagine. I have to stop myself from constantly working, which becomes habit on the road.

And then I get blue. Traveling is a rush. I’m incessantly high on life, moving fast, hustling, running on fumes and caffeine rather than sleep. On the road, I’m the old me. Whether or not I’m in New York, I’m the New York me: in the throes of the wine industry, living the pace and ambition of yore. Coming down leaves me in a directionless fog. Still a little ill-equipped to handle the slower pace of life in Colorado, it takes days if not weeks to calm down.

For me, the frenetic energy of city life is inextricably linked to youth. Young, I could live in the city forever. If eternal youth were an option, I’d go back to the city in a heart beat. Growing old in the city, however, doesn’t hold much appeal. And so nostalgia for the cool, fierce, scintillating buzz of the city is basically just nostalgia for youth, and that shit ain’t coming back.

Alongside meeting new people on the road: distributors and reps, sales and portfolio managers, clients, their clients, and their clients’ clients, comes the opportunity to see friends. I started the most recent trip in Chicago with Nadim Audi, his badass wife, Rebecca, and their three rug rats. Nadim sells Selection Massale in Chicago, and one of my finer endeavors in the trade was setting up the Chicago market with Nadim. That was in 2015. Nadim and I hadn’t seen each other since.

Best dinner party accessory ever.

Nadim and Rebecca have a raclette cooker, hailing from the same era as the fondue pot. Instead of melting cheese in a vessel heated over flame, you lay a slice of raclette on a small trowel, which is then placed under top heat until melted and bubbling. Once gooey, you slough the cheese onto hot boiled potatoes and meats of the pork persuasion. (Works with pretty much any wine under the sun.)

You’ve spotted, dear reader, the Clos Roches Blanches label peeping out, stage right. J & M joined us for dinner and we were treated to back vintages of CRB, Goyo Garcia, and Laura Lorenzo. Of particular note (for me) was a 2013 CRB Côt. From a chilly, rainy, and underripe vintage in the Loire Valley, this Côt brought to mind and palate qualities I adore in wines from the northern reaches of France. It smelled like dirt, black pepper, black fruits, and fruits seeds were mortar and pestled to liquid form. The flavors were vivid, sour, and pure magic. (Incidentally, the next evening at Rootstock Wine Bar, I tasted Côt from Valérie Forgue, who took over some of the CRB holdings. The wine was fabulous, and comparable in style.)

Bottles at cellar temp.

In the ensuing days working the Chicago market, 2017 Division Pinot Noir “Un” emerged as my favorite wine of the current release. I was beguiled often by its dark and red berry aromas mingling with sous bois notes giving way to a palate that shows the long, cool growing season of 2017. The wine is a barrel selection coming from seven vineyards across the Willamette, none in notably high proportion. Minimal new oak is used. The wine is equally complex and crowd pleasing. Opening up gorgeously over about 5 hours, I’m especially compelled by its faint coffee or dark chocolate bitterness. (An aspect of basalt soil?) Wines need the bitter, sour, and salty, especially domestic wines, which are prone to ripe flavors. This wine is proof positive of both, together, in the same lovely bottle.

After Chicago, I headed to Minneapolis, another new city. If Chicago was marked by unseasonably warm temperatures, torrential rain, meat and potatoes, Minneapolis was marked by frigid weather and health food. I came to a new appreciation of the seat heater, the restorative properties of green juice and fermented foods.

White wine list at Troubadour in Minneapolis.

There are several Minneapolis venues I look forward to revisiting, but none more than Troubadour Wine Bar. A combination wine bar and music venue, the evening I went to Troubadour, it was packed with people listening to a folk band. I adore their wine list: succinct, interesting, and chalk-full of things I like to drink both by-the-bottle and by-the-glass. How often over the years did I wish for a place like Troubadour in New York City? Totally without pretense, yet brimful of personality, Troubadour takes my favorite aspects of a dive bar, and couples them with my favorite aspects of a wine bar. The founders have created such a warm and singular atmosphere.

Riding the wave on 9th street in the east village.

The next stop was New York. I will spare you, dear reader, the intense mixture of emotions that attend a week-long visit to my erstwhile home of 10 years. Suffice it to say that it’s wonderful to see friends, to be welcomed back with open arms, to casually run into people on the street or the subway (something that never happens in Fort Collins). Transportation and crowds do not become easier to stomach with distance and time, and so after the first shitty commute, let’s just say … one is reminded of why one left.

There were too many wonderful moments in New York to detail, work days with my former colleagues at MFW Wine Co., joyful reunions with customers, sales and dinners and tastings and early mornings at the gym in Green Point running away the previous night’s excesses. In other words: I lived my former life again for a week!

Kedegree is not to be missed!

I’ll mention one particularly memorable meal, shared with Tess Drumheller of MFW, and Jonathan Kemp, an old friend and the manager of Vine Wine. We went to Chez Ma Tante, a restaurant I wish had existed during my Green Point days. The food here is distantly French inspired, with a whiff of Ottolenghi-esque Israeli/Italian flare. There is much to love about Chez Ma Tante, but I’ll mention one simple thing that set it apart from so many of its ilk: Chez Ma Tante is quiet. At no point during the evening did I have to yell to be heard. I left feeling full. I got what I paid for, another rarity in New York dining.

After New York, I went to Connecticut to visit Mike and Ellie Carleton. They live in the greater New Haven area, north eastern Connecticut just a few miles from the windswept and blustery New England coast. Their house was built in 1750, and coming from a place where nothing is older than the Civil War, not even grave stones in the cemetery, old things are refreshing.

We tasted 2015s from several Transatlantic Bubbles producers: Laval, Alexandre Filaine. The vintage is shaping up marvelously for their growers, with a kiss of additional ripeness that compliments the bone dry style (in the case of Laval) and the crazy high acid (in the case of Filaine). After dinner, we cracked an icy bottle of 2015 Marguet Shaman Rosé, and the swooning began.

What vinous dreams are made of.

Benoît Marguet makes some of the most enticing rosé Champagnes on the market, using a heavy percentage of chalky Blanc de Blancs, blended with a soupçon of still red wine. Shaman is Benoît’s “entry level” wine. The last release of Shaman rosé had a bit of bacterial funk, which is unusual in Champagne. This release, however, is back on track and oh-so-crushable. During our fire-side session with this bottle, I tried to focus on the conversation, but the wine had a-hold of my brain and would not let go. It was like creamy raspberry sherbet with mouth-filling, colloidal texture, yet a perfectly precise, chalky finish. I’ve been cultivating self control in the face of delicious Champagne for years now, but could muster none in the face of this bottle.

Connecticut culinary shrine.

The next day, after a brisk outing on the shore, we pilgrimaged to a quintessential New England culinary shrine: Lobster Landing. Tarps enclosed an outdoor seating area featuring plastic tables and chairs on gravel. Wind whipped the tarps, but we stayed cozy thanks to space heaters. The blue sky and salty air were invigorating, and youthful day dreams rocked me like waves jostling a fishing boat in the harbor.

As a child, I ate lobster once a year, while visiting my aunt and uncle in New Jersey. This luxurious meal came to symbolize passage across the Mason-Dixon line, everything I wanted for the future. I was obsessed with the north east as a young person. If I could just get away from the stinking south with its humidity and rednecks and lack of snow, with its disgusting history of slavery and racism implicating my ancestors and, by extension, me, then maybe that gross sensation of guilt and powerlessness would abate. My 12 year old self was convinced that upstate New York and New England were promised lands. Funny where life takes us, and what memories a lobster roll can trigger.

The perfect food for blocked malo Champagne.

In Connecticut, lobster rolls are made by dipping chunks of lobster in butter, and nestling them into a toasted bun. It’s essential that the bun be totally without sweetness, and that the edges be ever-so-slightly burnt. Lay’s potato chips are a worthy side dish.

I deferred to Ellie & Mike, who have tested many Champagne and lobster roll combinations, for the pairing. We drank a bottle of 2009 Grongnet Special Club. The Grongnet wines come from a part of Champagne that can only be described as au milieu de nul part (rough translation: bum fuck), between the Côte des Blancs and the Sézanne. The soils are chalky but with more heavy clay than in the Grand Crus of the more prestigious neighboring region. Until 1995, Grongnet’s Special Club was 100% Chardonnay; now it’s 50% Chardonnay, with 30% Meunier and 20% Noir. The Grongnets typically block malolactic fermentation with sulfur to preserve the racy, chalky qualities of the wine. As it turns out, this style is perfect for lobster rolls, which require no additional buttery flavor. Of course the nexus of this pairing is the sweet flavor or lobster with the lemony and maritime, seashell-y notes of the wine. We sipped and ate, glancing from time to time at a family seated at the far end of the make-shift room. They were halfway through a jug of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

After Connecticut, I went to New Jersey, then to Philadelphia, then to Boston. All of these places received me warmly, but those stories will have to keep for another day.

In spite of the emotional swings of leaving for weeks at a time, coming back, coming down from the buzz and excitement, I’ve got a pretty sweet gig. I tour American cities in the passenger seat of sales reps’ cars, hopping out every hour or so to talk about Division wines, which are delicious, interesting wines that miraculously seem to sell themselves. Wine sales reps always know where to find good food, wine, and coffee. They’re engaging humans with interesting life stories. And the best part of all is that every few days something unexpected happens, like riding through downtown Chicago to Lake Michigan on a borrowed bike at 7am. All I can hope for is a proper balance of calm and adventure, fueled by good food, lubricated by fine wine and friendship.

It is a great testament to the generosity of my bosses, Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe, that last Tuesday they took their entire staff on a tour of the Willamette Valley. Kate and Tom have a larger staff than one might expect, and we were a group of 14 people: amply tattooed cooks and servers from the wine bar, our accountant, our assistant winemaker, various individuals whose role in the company remains a mystery (at least to me). We were a motley and jovial crew setting off for wine country in a big white van bumping ’90s hiphop after a breakfast of mimosas and croissants.

In the preceding weeks, this excursion had become lodged in my mind as a sort of team-building exercise, minus a few trust falls, plus a few glasses of wine and a vape pen or two. Harvest is on the horizon, and as always it’ll be a time of constant toil and stress, exhausting and fraught with the unexpected. I realize now that Kate and Tom took us to the Willamette on a gorgeous late summer day to heighten our understanding, to remind us why we do this, and to bring us together before the first grapes roll in. For me, it certainly produced the desired effect, and I found myself at the end of the day immensely proud to call these folks my work family.

Our first stop was at Argyle in Dundee. It’s immediately obvious that Dundee is a wine town. Like Beaune or Arbois, its main strip features many tasting rooms. Having taken quite a few work trips to Europe over the years, I find it fascinating to see the familiar tune of “wine country” transposed into a distinctly American key: everything new, shiny, and big. Yet the pioneers of Oregon wine were hippies, and there is something beautiful about the way they launched Oregon wine culture, including legislation to keep the city of Portland from encroaching on agricultural land. I haven’t spent much time in the Willamette, but its biodiversity strikes me every time. It’s not like the Langhe or Burgundy or the Marne Valley where rolling hills of vines stretch for miles. In the Willamette, mid-slope vineyards are responsibly interspersed with Filbert crops, berries, hops, woodland etc … I guess what I’m saying is that what the area lacks in old world charm and ancient stone wineries, it makes up for in interesting personalities and biodiversity. 

I hadn’t tasted a bottle of Argyle in many years, and truth be told my expectations were not the highest. Argyle makes 80k cases of wine per year. 40k of those cases are what the French call “Brut Sans Année” or basic sparkling wine. I am human, and as such harbor many prejudices, one major one rooted in the supposed inferiority of large-ish production wine. Yet there’s no reason why big production should mean a bad product. If the farming is good, and growth is responsibly managed without cutting too many corners, spoofing too much in the cellar, or selling out to a fickle market, the resultant wine should be as good as it was when the production was microscopic. (Caveat: the bigger the winery, the greater the temptation to sell out and spoof out.)

I should preface my notes on the Argyle wines by mentioning that we did not try the BSA, nor did we taste their Pinot Noir, whence my less-than-stellar impression of these wines. We began with 2014 Blanc de Blancs from the high-elevation Spirit Hill vineyard. Heavy influenced by the Van Duzzer corridor, Spirit Hill is a cool site, and early picking helps guard acidity to make a crunchy and focused base wine. I found this bottle to be quite Champenois with its toast, graphite notes, and mineral core. Dosed at 4 grams, it was an easy wine to drink, and I fell to thinking that Argyle’s BdB is probably more appealing to the average Joe than the stern and pillar-like Blanc de Blancs from Champagne I’ve come to enjoy.

Next came the 2014 Knudsen Vineyard Blanc de Noirs. 2014 is the first vintage of this wine and it was incredibly good. The block used features own-rooted Pommard clone Pinot Noir planted in 1974. These would be old vines by any standard, and especially in Oregon where the wine scene as we know it was born in the ’60s and ’70s. The wine was earthy and red-fruited with gorgeous raspberry notes across the palate. The Jory soil (ferrous red clay with volcanic rock) here surely contributed to the wine’s sanguine and succulent red fruit character.

It’s possible that Argyle’s Blanc de Noirs impressed me more than their Blanc de Blancs because the Knudsen vines are so old, the site so special. It’s possible that sparkling wine made from Chardonnay should hail from the fringes of ripeness, should be made from enamel-stripping juice. However I also believe that Blanc de Noirs is a category in which we find less competition from the old world. There are Grand and Premier Crus in Champagne dedicated to the production of world class Blanc de Blancs, but true Blanc de Noirs wines are still relatively uncommon in Champagne, even in prime Pinot Noir villages like Bouzy and Ambonnay. Of late, some of my very favorite Blanc de Noirs have come from the Aube: Ruppert-Leroy’s Les Cognaux, Roland Piollot’s Les Gravelées, Thomas Barbichon’s Blanc de Noirs. I’d conjecture the Aube and the Willamette might have something in common. Perhaps there’s a bright future for cool site, early pick Oregon BdN. Though it’s Columbia Gorge rather than Willamette, a bottle of Analemma should surely confirm the potential of this style of wine in Oregon.

The only slightly underwhelming wine at Argyle was the 2014 Brut Rosé. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot, and Meunier, this was a pale salmon colored, easy sparking wine that had little to recommend it intellectually, though it was delicious enough for a warm morning in the sunshine. What the Rosé lacked in complexity, the 2007 Extended Tirage Brut more than made up for. This is Argyle’s BSA, aged 10 years sur lattes (versus 3 years for the rest of the wines). With additional time on lees, the wine had become creamy and savory. A lively conversation ensued about the difference between pre and post disgorgement bottle age, a topic I never tire of. 

Next we headed to Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountain AVA. We stopped at a gorgeous building at the top of the hill housing J.K. Carriere, a winery I’d heard of but never experienced. J.K. Carriere is the brain child of Jim Prosser, a laid back yet clearly motivated 50-something gent who lead us through an amusing history of his estate. In the late 2000s, Jim purchased a 40 acre farm at the top of Parrett Mountain called St. Dolores Estate. He’s in the midst of clearing, planting, and learning this terroir. In the meantime he sources a bit from Temperance Hill and other top sites. 

First in my glass was an insanely delicious Rosé sparkling wine, and I once again pondered the irony of coming to the Willamette to cast my snobby Champagne pallet across a range of bubbles. I believe this cuvée is not made every year, but rather only in the years that give the desired acid profile. The fruit comes from Temperance Hill, the cool 2011 vintage. Whole cluster pressed, fermented in neutral barrel, the wine is then aged for 4 years sur lattes. I fell hook, line, and sinker for its lees-y flavors and hints of oxidation alongside a panoply of pithy citrus notes. Had it not been $80/bottle, I’d surely have bought some to revisit chez moi, which is not to say the price is unreasonable … merely prohibitive. 

I’ve no doubt that Jim Prosser’s Pinots are the most Burgundy-like I’ve tried (from Oregon). He bills his wines as “acid-centric”, and they are. But it’s not just the acid, these wines are cloudy and delicately colored in the glass, with the green, herbal, woodsy, forrest floor notes one finds in Burgundy. Jim’s Pinots finish with a specific bitterness that immediately called to mind tasting freshly racked Burgundy. While I wasn’t crazy about the flagship “Provocateur”, these flavors came into their own in 2015 “Vespidae”. A hot, dry vintage seemed to well-suit Jim’s acid-driven style. As a confirmed acid lover, it’s strange to say that I craved more ripe, Oregon fruit, but I did, tasting Jim’s wines. Alongside this craving, was a desire to know what Jim does to make his wines so dang Burgundian. Still, the sheer quality at J.K. Carriere was unmistakable. 

We lunched at Beckham Estate Vineyard (also on Parrett Mountain), which in this case meant a pizza truck specially commandeered for the occasion. Andrew and Annedria Beckham bought this land with the intention of building an art studio for Andrew. Their destiny took an unexpected turn in mid-2000s when they planted vineyards on their property. The estate is 8 acres in total, 6.5 planted to vine. The Beckhams also raise sheep and pigs. Andrew Beckham still teaches art at the high school in McMinnville. Yet the Beckhams claim to fame is their clay pots, and their clay pot wines. 

A few years ago, Annedria brought home a bottle of Elisabetta Foradori’s amphora wine for her husband to try. Smitten by the wine, they began to research amphorae. Andrew took a look at these aging vessels, typical of parts of Italy and eastern Europe, commenting “I can make those.” And he did. Since the clay pot project began, the Beckhams have continuously worked to craft better vessels from better terra cotta mixtures. They now furnish several domestic wineries with clay pots, and are essentially the only American manufacturer of hand made amphorae. 

I’m a self-proclaimed amphora skeptic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Beckham’s clay pot wines. Their 2016 Pinot Noir  “Creta”  was elegant and sleek, its aromas of clay far from over whelming, tannins in balance, delicious to the last drop, Their amphora Rogue Valley Grenache was equally compelling in an ethereal, glouglou  style. The crowning achievement, however, was their Pinot Gris, a macerated, light-red style Gris, suave and refreshing, the kind of wine that brings me around to Chad Stock’s view that Gris should be vinified red. 

Needless to say no one was sober by the time we left the Beckham’s. And so we did what all wine professionals do at the end of packed tasting day, we drank beer.

 

Until recently, I could run away anything. I’d throw my shoes on Sunday morning and hit the streets, usually for somewhere between 7 and 10 miles, and by the time I arrived back home, the bad feelings would be gone, at least for a few hours. I’d listen to some ’90s hiphop or disco, maybe some mid-2000s new wave garage rock, and pound the angst away.

Then something changed. Last summer, I tried to run the prospect of a visit to the cardiologist away, and it didn’t work. I ran all the way from 151st and Riverside to Chambers and the westside highway, and still felt like shit. Why?

I used to think running made me feel good because the brain releases posi-brain-chemicals during and afterward. These are like posi-vibes only instead of being released over beers with friends, they’re released over miles of strenuous exercise. I’ve realized, though, that running made me feel good because it gave me control over something: myself. When there’s chaos outside, we retreat inside, to our bodies, where we’re in charge.

Since Trump, the chaos has been so all-encompassing that running no longer delivers a still place in the turning world. I feel naive — like I should have known (for example) how alive and well racism is in America, but I didn’t know because I attended Quaker school, the first integrated school in North Carolina, because we had Obama for two terms, because I told myself that America was going in the right direction for those who share my values.

Our current political meltdown has created a sort of ethical-philosophical huevos rancheros in my brain, the primary ingredient of which is utter powerlessness to hinder the march of this deranged administration; toppings include rage and fear. What does one pair with feelings of chaos and powerlessness?

Since moving to Colorado, I’ve taken up several nostalgic activities: things I did to improve myself and pass time holed up in rural North Carolina as a child, before the wine business, before New York, before Trump. One of them is practicing the piano. A few days ago I was butchering Chopin’s Nocturne in Bb Minor, Opus 9, No. 1, when I came across notes on the music, written by my beloved piano teacher of 10+ years, Carrie Monnette. “Mist ….” in her upright cursive “distant light”. Minor epiphany. When looking forward strikes fear, look back. Reliving moments of innocence (remember when George W. Bush was the worst Republican we could imagine?) and living moments of sensory beauty are effective balms for an anxious soul.

Fingers crossed we see that distant light when the mid-term elections roll around …

The vinous equivalent of mist over the lake at dawn in the Adirondacks, distant light of the day’s first Jetski shimmering through as Chopin reiterates a haunting melody in sotto voce … is of course Riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Rüwer: wine that delivers pure sensory beauty, wine that enables us taste colors and feelings in addition to fruits and stones, wine that seems innately to possess the flavor of sweet, sad nostalgia.

My Riesling binge began with 2016 Falkenstein Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese Feinherb, a wine that is, in my opinion, one of Erich and Johannes Weber’s greatest successes in the 2016 vintage. Herrenberg is the Weber’s top site for dry wine. It gives us bracing Kabinett Tröcken, Weissburgunder, delicate Kabinett Feinherb, and other glorious examples of Falky deliciousness. To me, wines of the Herrenberg are tensile and green, like walking in a dewy meadow with stops along the way to smell the crocuses and pick a few wild blueberries. 

When I first got to know these wines, I preferred the Euchariusberg vineyard with its show-stopping Spät and Auslesen. Now, I prefer the subtlety of Herrenberg. Spät Fein is bottled in magnums, and the 750 production is tiny. At Spätlese ripeness, but Feinherb sweetness, it’s dense, powerful, yet airy nectar that coats the tongue in a sapid, stony film.  

Ambling at a leisurely pace through Le Comte de Monte Cristo in French has also proved effective balm for the politically incensed heart. As an adolescent I was obsessed with the French Revolution. Le Comte de M-C takes place in the years of Napoleon’s exile on the island of Elba. The historic events are fascinating, and the novel is full of back-stabbing shenanigans, fearless heroes and dastardly villains. It’s gratifying reading the book in French, stumbling upon sentences like this one: Je vous demande pardon, ma mère, dit une jeune et belle personne aux blonds cheveaux, à l’oeil de velours nageant dans une fluide nacré … (“I beg pardon, my mother, said a young and beautiful person with blond hair and velvet eyes swimming in a pearly liquid ….”)  I hope to start writing like Dumas.

The Riesling binge continued with 2016 Stein Weihwasser Feinherb. Weihwasser means holy water, and this bottle is truly divine. I’d drunk Weihwasser before, but did not recall it being so extraordinary. I remember this wine as primarily refreshing, with a hint of sponty reduction and a core of zesty citrus fruit. Imagine my surprise when the wine was gorgeously aromatic, marked by the same walk-in-the-meadow vibe as the Falky, but more delicate and lacy, less powerful and ripe, tense and nervy, but soft like wild rose petal and iris, perhaps a hint of lilac …

Holy shit.

I don’t know Ulrich (“Ullie”) Stein personally, and so I went down a bit of a rabbit hole researching this estate. It seems Ullie is somewhat of a fanatic whose specialty is restoring ancient, barely workable sites in the Mosel that are prohibitively steep and in danger of going fallow because no one wants to work them. In other words, he specializes in labors of love. It’s inspiring both to drink this man’s wine, and to read about his noble work preserving some of the Mosel’s best and oldest terroirs.

Continuing in the 19th century vein, I’m re-reading Crime and Punishment for the first time since college. The aura of this book is dark and weird, ironic and bleak. Its genius lies in its ability to seduce the reader into pondering the nature and repercussions of freewill. This is one of the first existential novels, and its haunting depths are more resonant to me now than they were when I was young. (Plus C & P makes an interesting contrast to the bright-blue-sky-with-cotton-candy-clouds look that Colorado seems to wear every damned day of the week.) 

Stein-ing made me curious to open a bottle I’d been eyeing in the wine fridge: 2015 Weiser-Künstler Enkircher Ellergrub Kabinett. I approached this bottle with minor trepidation. 2015 was a sun-drenched year in the Mosel, and the resultant wines have been ripe for my taste. Falky and Stein were 2016s, and “Feinherb”, which means “off-dry” (and makes for fun punning when one considers the amount of fine herb lining the dispensary shelves in the great state of Colorado, as well as the natural symbiosis of Riesling and marijuana). Unlike most German wine words, which are bound by regulations, Feinherb is the winemaker’s impression of off-dry. Thus there is lots of variance in sweetness between Feinherb wines. To read more, see Lars’ article on the subject. For me, Feinherb is often the perfect balance. Anything sweeter and I’m compelled to stop after a glass or two.

The Ellergrub is an incredible site.

The Wei-Kü was traditional Mosel Kabinett. At 7.5% alcohol (versus 11-ish% for the Feinherbs) this was a sweeter, riper wine. Many Riesling obsessives take the position that sweet wine is the apotheosis of German Riesling. With residual sugar, the panoply of flavors broadens, the tongue tolerates even more razor sharp acidity, the wine becomes longer lived. And so what if I harbor a quiet preference for dry and off-dry? Does that make me deaf to the ultimate tones of great German wine? Perhaps.

As predicted, the Wei-Kü was an entirely different experience, as though I’d passed from a dewey morning to a delightfully warm afternoon. With a year of additional bottle age, the Wei-Kü showed flint, smoke, and petrol on the nose. Where the Feinherbs were green and blue, the Kabinett was green and gold, like a ripe grape barely flecked with brown. The palate was relentlessly crunchy and sheer to the finish, which delivered a pinch of skin tannin and a mouthful of rhubarb.

I was momentarily transported as I sipped to May 8th of last year, an enjoyable ride through Alsace into Germany with Amanda Smeltz. It was dusk when we arrived at Weiser-Künstler, but we were nonetheless received for a memorable tasting and a quick peek at the sleeping fuders. I found a clue in my notes from the visit. Konstantin told us that over the past few years they’ve been forced to harvest earlier because “rot is coming …” Early picking gave the wine incredible freshness and filigree; a ripe vintage gave it succulent fruit. It was a rare bird: a classic Kabinett that had not passed into Spätlese territory. It was certainly no less delicious than the Falky and the Stein for its sweetness, and with pleasure I corked up the bottle after two small glasses to return to the next day.

To those few who made it through this long and meandering post, I say: let us enjoy as much beauty and Riesling as we can in the moment, and if looking forward for inspiration seems futile, look backward, a distant light just might emerge from the mist.

In the spring of 2015 when I was national sales manager for Selection Massale, I wrote a post called “sleeping with other cities” about traveling to the southeast to promote the Massale brand. The journey stuck with me. It was the first time I’d visited Atlanta and New Orleans — iconic cities of the southeast! In retrospect, the reason this trip resonated so powerfully is that I loved the work. In retrospect, I’ve been trying to get back to this type of work since it escaped me in the fall of 2015. Happily, Division Winemaking Company came my way, and with them I have the opportunity to work markets across the U.S. again.

Going on tour with a wine company is not unlike going on tour with a band.

National selling differs from regional selling. National sales takes me to major cities, also off-the-beaten-path places in America, and allows me to dip into their wine and food scene for a couple of days. I meet the players and see how the game is played in those markets. I scope out what’s trending there, what portfolios are hot, what and where people are dining. I spend time with portfolio managers and sales reps, which is both taxing and fun. Since prohibition, the rules of the alcohol game have been 99% state determined, which means that every market has its own laws and customs. I learn about those and file them away to strengthen my chameleon abilities to sell to whomever, wherever, however (as long as it’s honest — guiding principle: no lying).

Regional sales made me a specialist: a specialist in New York booze laws and customs, New York restaurants and retail stores, New York distributor portfolios. I was relationship-rich. Rather than fleeting rapports with buyers, I had extensive ones; sometimes a buyer’d be so thoroughly ensconced in my brain that I’d dream about them … unlikely to happen in national sales.

I do not think one of these jobs is superior to the other. Both have major pros and cons. While I thoroughly enjoyed working a regional sales route for MFW (notably because MFW is a superb company with superb wine), I’m thrilled to be working a national route for Division. There are two things that draw me to national sales: the opportunity to travel the United States, and the consequent opportunity to celebrate small and burgeoning wine markets. It’s a given that the wine will be good in New York, L.A., Chicago. But an interesting wine market in Jackson Hole Wyoming, or Savannah, or Knoxville? Now that’s something …

On April 30th, I flew to Charleston to begin three weeks of market visits across the east coast followed by a week in Oregon for I Love Gamay, a festival I’d aided in the production and planning of. Looking down the barrel of this trip was daunting: a month of crashing in hotels, airbnbs, on friends’ air-mattresses and in their spare rooms, a month away from my home, my man and my cats, a month without routine, a month of living out of a suitcase. On the other hand: adventure! Life in Colorado is fairly staid and calm. I’m sleeping with a small town where people routinely wear pajama pants to the grocery store, where there’s virtually no grower Champagne, or black people, where I couldn’t buy a cocktail dress because shops don’t carry them. It was time to sleep with some cities — including the big mac-daddy of them all: New York, my former home.

Though I’d never been to Charleston, I was smote by powerful nostalgia when I touched down there. There were vivid green trees everywhere, moisture in the air, thick, soft light, southern voices speaking syrupy sentences dripping with irony, pimento cheese to feast upon, cicadas chirping loud as hell at night. It’s odd to experience a sense of home in a place you’ve never been, but that was my reaction to being reunited with the region of my birth and first 27 years of life, after four months in Colorado. Regional identity is real, and I didn’t know how strongly I identify as an east coaster, as a southerner, until I moved to the west.

superior pairing.

The food and wine scene in Charleston is poppin’ off right now. It’s clear that the city is going through a renaissance, or gentrification, or yuppi-fication if you will. There are quite a few buyers of New York origin in Charleston, which became a running joke between the sales rep and myself. Not that having New York wine buyers around is necessarily a good thing, or a sign of progress, but New York buyers do tend to push the envelope, to demand of their local reps the wines they used to buy in the metropolis. The sales rep, I should mention, is a gentleman named Kevin Kelley who is doing a smashing job not just for Division, but also for my former employer Selection Massale, for Portovino, for Jose Pastor Selections (these portfolios are all over Charleston), and more. Kevin is as good a rep as they come. He’s been in the Charleston food scene since the mid-80s; he knows everyone, and if buyer relationships were saturated fat, he’d be foie gras. He walks the streets of Charleston with a broken old schnook bag full of crazy good wine, seeing 10+ accounts a day, received with open arms by each one.

shelf-talker at Monarch Wine Merchants.

There were many excellent visits in Charleston, but I’ll highlight three spots. Graft is a new wine shop on King Street run by a couple of cool, young dudes named Miles and Femi. Miles worked as an assistant winemaker for Antica Terra in Oregon, and really knows his stuff. Femi, too. Apparently he’d shopped with me at Chambers Street back in the day. The booze laws in South Carolina allow these guys to have both and on and an off-premise licenses, so one can drink a delicious glass or bottle (with snacks!) at Graft. Their clientele is young and hip (like them!). I fielded quite a few questions about natural wine during my event there, and not one eye brow raised at the bottle of cold Gamay “Les Petits Fers” in my ice bucket.

Monarch Wine Merchants is a gorgeous shop further north on King Street run by a soulful guy named Justin who clearly has a hard-on for sparkling wine to equal my own. His sparkling selection reflects the give-zero-fucks-I’m-putting-amazing-Champange-on-the-shelf (even if I have to drink it all myself) attitude that imbued my Champagne shelf at Chambers Street. I could easily have spent a month’s rent at Monarch.

And finally Stems & Skins, a funky wine bar in north Charleston run by a genial, boisterous cat named Matt Tunstall. My wine bar takeover at Stems was followed by an opera performance during which I sat outside with Matt and Kevin, sipping a flight of Chenin (Division, Rochers des Violettes, Franz Saumon), enjoying the warm spring evening, getting tipsy and righteously eaten alive by mosquitos. Then we went to a dive bar that reminded me so much of the dive bars of my youth that an unbidden tear welled in my eye.

Dream car!

The next morning I set forth in the microscopic Toyota Yaris I’d rented for Savannah. Out of the city, I was in the rural southeast of my youth: crumby trailers with American flags in the yard alongside busted old hoopties with missing tires, swampy marshlands, Bojangles and Waffle House, poor and rich, black and white, living totally separately, yet right next to each other. I stopped to pee just outside Hilton Head at a dumpy junction where I was the only white person to be seen. Vestiges of slavery, segregation and racism still alive and well, an impoverished black community adjacent to a wealthy, white golfing town. But here’s the thing: rational awareness of how totally messed up the southeast is doesn’t stop me from feeling the visceral, palpably at home there.

Stay tuned for next week’s continuation of “working the market” (mid-Atlantic edition).

*For those of you looking for an in depth post on reduction from yours truly: someone has offered to exchange dollars for words on the subject, and so the piece is almost finished, but it will be published elsewhere.*

The first myth I’d like to dispel about Colorado is that the winter weather is bad. Certainly before coming here I was under the impression that because there are many places to ski, it’s frigid and snowy for a chunk of the year. It’s snowed three times since I arrived. The rest of the month, bright sunshine beams down on Colorado, melting any snow on the ground, and bathing the rockies in gorgeous light. While it’s not warm, there’s something about the dry air that makes the cold feel … less cold. Does that make sense? It didn’t to me either, but it’s true! 20 feels like 30; 30 feels like 40; 50 I can run outside in a tee-shirt and shorts. By pretty much any standard, the weather in Colorado is excellent.

Jogging outside, in a tee-shirt, in January.

The second myth I’d like to dispel is that because pot is legal here, everyone’s a pot head. From my limited observation, once the thing is legal, it becomes normalized. People who use it are free to indulge in high quality, safe product. People who don’t like it, just don’t use it. Regardless of your feelings on marijuana, the dispensary is a fun place to visit for the sheer sake of seeing something commercialized that we used to have to wait three hours for the shady drug dealer outside that shitty hot dog stand in Durham to acquire (that was in the ’90s). Given how much money is pouring into Colorado because of legal weed, given how much exciting entrepreneurship is fostered here because of the pot business, I truly don’t understand why more states don’t follow suit.

New bridge crush … not the George Washington, but I’ll take it.

Many people asked me when I moved here if I was planning to enter the marijuana trade. I think they were joking, but now I’ve met several people in the weed industry, and it’s not such a stretch. There’s overlap, particularly in sales, but sales is virtually the same the world over whether you’re selling cars, bottles of Burgundy, or vape pens. I truly believe the pot industry should learn from the wine industry. Wine bathes in a sheen of luxury and quality; pot, by contrast, has a sort of fog of illegality and moral reprehensibility billowing around it (compounded, of course, by Jeff Sessions and other haters in the government). Of course these associations with pot are rapidly changing. But still, it’ll be nice when the type of high-end curation that accompanies fine wines, accompanies rare strains and formats of marijuana. At least I think it’ll be nice. Both drugs can be good or bad depending on who you are and how you use them. I don’t really see why one but not the other should have a nice cushy pedestal to legitimize it. That said, I’m still fascinated by wine, and only marginally interested in weed, which means I’ll never make the jump.

Not going to lie, after New York, the food and wine scene is a little challenging, but I think it’s because 1) I’m a hopeless snob, and 2) I’m in Fort Collins rather than Denver or Boulder. I’ve made day trips to both (they’re an hour away in different directions), and have found excellent food, superb wine retail, and basically all the yuppie amenities I enjoyed as a 9 year resident of north Brooklyn. Fort Collins, on the other hand, seems to have a restaurant for every five inhabitants, but most are fast causal chains like Qdoba (there are at minimum five in this town, I kid you n0t), Noodles & Company (there are two on the main drag within half a mile of one another), and my personal favorite “Stuft”, which serves burgers and beer. “Stuft” has become a bit of a whipping boy for me because of the creator’s clear inability to spell in the English language. The stark reality is that I cannot find a good loaf of bread in this town, but hell, no one eats bread anymore, right? More importantly, there is good 3rd wave coffee here!

It looks and sounds as though the yuppification of Fort Collins is in full effect. People are priced out of Denver and Boulder, and are moving to their environs in droves. This means it’s only a matter of time. To that end, I’ve been fantasizing hot and heavily about opening a tiny wine bar here, perhaps with a small retail selection as well, something I’d never have contemplated in a million years in NYC, but Fort Collins needs it. The grad students and hip professors need somewhere to go besides the tap room and the whisky bar. They need somewhere to go where the college students are not. Applying things I learned in the metropolis, I think I could create — for not a ton of money — a cool space that would offer something not on the menu here yet (tiny production wine, natural wine, bar á vins flavor, a sense of exclusivity, something other than the ubiquitous suburban American, slightly-too-large, faux-fancy-but-you-can-still-wear-your-exercise-pants-there, soulless venues that crop up like weeds in towns like Fort Collins, and my home town for that matter, as they gentrify).

On to wine. When I repped in New York, there was always open wine in my life. Usually I’d drop bottles with customers. Sometimes I’d use them to barter with local cheesemongers (I got a lot of free cheese that way especially living in Brooklyn). When they were really good (Enviñate, Nanclares, Michel Autran, Ruppert-Leroy, Saint-Pierre, Silvio Carta, Falkenstein, all the MFW Oregon wines), I’d take then home and drink them. I rarely cracked bottles from my personal collection because there was no need. In Fort Collins, I’m not (yet) opening wine for my job, the wine retail scene here is … coming along, and I haven’t (yet) bought a car in which to go shopping in Denver/Bounder, with the result that if I want to sip something in the evening, it has to come from my “cellar.”

At first I thought “Sweet! I’ll finally start depleting my stash.” Shortly thereafter I thought “Fuck. I’ll never be able to buy good wine again.” And I resolved to, one by one, give back in some small way to the retailers who supported me as a rep in New York by ordering from them and having wine sent here. But the primary repercussion has been that I’ve checked in on some fabulous wines from my “cellar” that I probably would not have opened otherwise.

It was a joy to reconnect with the work of Étienne Thiébaud (Domaines des Cavarodes). I’ve been following his wines for seven years, and hard as they are to acquire, they always deliver. This is a wine I tasted out of barrel in the winter of 2015. At that time it was gloriously high acid, hard, and vivid. According to my notes, it’s a blend of 10-ish ancient varieties (comprising 80% Chardonnay with Savagnin, Savagnin Rose, Sauvignonasse, and more), vinified with only a drop of sulfur. This bottle had seen six months under my bed in Brooklyn with no temperature control, followed by a journey across the country through frigid temperatures. It was expressive and fresh as a daisy. I reached for this bottle because I get terribly nostalgic for the Jura, and Étienne’s wines (more than many others) taste of the region. They are not sous voile, but have that lovely whiff of oxidation that softens the green apple and lemon and stones. Perhaps more importantly, you smell — not just the marly limestone — but also the cellar and the Comté rind. Like most of my favorite textured, high-acid whites, this wine grips the inside of your mouth as though coating it with a fine film of stone.

It was also a joy to find that 2014 Táganan Blanco from Enviñate has arrived at a beautiful spot in its life. This wine, along with a bottle of Nanclares 2016 self-titled Albariño (not pictured) got me thinking about the color of minerality. Táganan is volcanic; Nanclares is granitic, but both have dark-toned minerality. As crystalline, pure, and pale as I find the rocky core of wines from places like the Côte des Blancs, Chablis, even Jura where you get more yellow sensations, these two have a brooding essence that puts me in mind of dark earth and stones. Táganan is intense and wild, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

John McIlwain gave me this 2014 Chorey-lès-Beaune from Catherine and Claude Maréchal. I’d been meaning to crack it for months, but the moment didn’t present itself … until moving day. At the end of moving day, I was so tired and so hungry that the only thing to be done was order a pizza. Recalling my friend Raj Vaidya extolling the virtues of Burgundy and pizza, I gave this counter-intuitive pairing a try. I love 2014 Burgundy more and more with every bottle. It speaks to the acid lover in me, and I appreciate its rusticity. Chorey is a rustic appellation, and this is not a wine to coddle you with cloying fruit. Its blackberry brambly with a hint of dusty graphite and fruit seed on the palate. It’s a wine that could only have come from an off-the-grid Burgundy village like Chorey. I have neither the money nor the drive to drink the fancier stuff, and so humble Burgundies like this are perfect for me.

Toro, Rodeo, Stuft Comté Cow.

In other news, I miss my friends in New York. Relocation to an entirely new place is a lonely business. But as my best friend Susannah pointed out, I “don’t like going out anyway …” The cats are good company and they are happy here. There’s plenty of cooking to be done, and we’ve already take down three seasons of True Blood (highly recommended), four seasons of Peaky Blinders (ditto), and three novels. And I’m relearning Chopin’s Nocturne in B flat minor, Opus 9, N0. 1. I’m getting up and running with Division, and my hope is that by the time our spring Divide and Conquer tour begins, I’ll be rested enough to party my face off when I get to the east coast.

 

My aunt gave me this book for Christmas. It’s a collection of personal essays by female writers who’ve loved and left New York. The collection is inspired by Joan Didion’s 1967 essay called ‘Goodbye to All That’, which I have not read yet but plan to. 

As much about what brought them to the city as what made them leave, each author brings the reader into her experience of the allure and the heartbreak the city. In turn inspired by these stories, also by the need to cope with my own recent departure from the metropolis, I’m recounting my New York story, part therapy, part homage to a decade in New York.

In the summer of 2007, I was a year into my career in the wine business. I’d shed the drug and booze addled life of a line cook, given up the dream of getting a Masters then Phd in either English or Philosophy, found a tall handsome boyfriend who was a good guy, though his ernest-ness and that dumb Whinny the Pooh tattoo on his back had begun to wear on me. Things were coming together … kind of. My mom had cancer, but she seemed relatively stable. I could not yet discern the writing on the wall, but in retrospect that was willful denial as much as anything.

In the summer of 2007, there was one blemish on the smooth facade of my life and it was my ex-boyfriend R, whom I could not get over. He was wretchedly angry at me for dumping him several months previously for Pooh Bear, and was liberally dousing his anger at our hometown’s various watering holes. I found out that he was moving to New York during a drunken fight we had outside a bar in Chapel Hill. He’d always wanted to go to the city, and had planned out our life there together. This fantasy involved a one bedroom in Dumbo (ha! we’d never have been able to afford that), him working at the travel agency during the day, playing music at night, me learning the wine trade. It was a nice picture, save for the fact that I had no desire to live in New York. I’d been visiting the city since I was an early teenager, and recognized it as a cramped and expensive life that I wanted no part of.

The mind is a funny thing. In spite of my ambivalence toward New York, when I found out R was moving, I became intensely jealous of his upcoming adventure, and regretful of our breakup. My heartache over this matter was insoluble in a way I’ve never quite grasped, and I talked about it with my mom, who with one odd gesture (not so odd if you knew her) set in motion the next ten years of my life. She went to the travel agency where R worked, askew sunglasses on top of her head, eye makeup running a little bit, weakened from chemotherapy, and she asked him to do her a personal favor: “say something nice to Sophie before you go.”

The rest is history. In the winter of 2007 I came to New York to make a career for myself in wine, and to see what destiny held in store for R and myself.

Things went swimmingly for the first seven years or so. I easily found interesting work. (If you are willing to work hard and are relatively intelligent, New York will suck you dry.) My knowledge of wine continued to deepen. I met the movers and shakers, and eventually became a known entity in the industry. While I never loved the city, I made peace with the crowded subway, the throngs of people, the terrible weather, the high cost of living, etc … While it’s expensive in New York, there are seemingly endless jobs and opportunity, and so I found myself less broke than I’d been in North Carolina.

Navigating New York is like this: if you learn to stroke with the current, it’s just fine. If you brace yourself against the flow, you become like an ineffective butterfly-er flailing away tons of energy to advance barely at all.

During those years I lived in North Brooklyn, having moved to Bushwick when the neighborhood was on the brink of becoming the stylish and affluent hipster paradise it now is. After the financial crisis of 2008, it was easy to find relatively inexpensive housing closer to Williamsburg, so my roommate and I did that … and then finally circa 2013, I found my dream Brooklyn apartment. On the border between Green Point, Williamsburg, and Bushwick, this place was far from all the trains, but miraculously close to everything, tucked away in an industrial wasteland by the BQE. Owned by an older Polish couple, the building had a charmingly european feel that I was drawn to instantly. There was a spacious deck that proved ideal for warm weather entertaining. The neighborhood was full of the things I like: third wave coffee, over priced sundries, local bakery sourdough. It was my only New York apartment that felt like home, and it took over half a decade to find.

The hardest thing about New York (if you don’t have a lot of money) is housing, which is of course why so many of the contributors to ‘Goodbye to All That’ tell their real estate journeys, which parallel their psychological journeys. When I lived in Bushwick, R and I still knew each other. We knew each other for many years in one way or another, until finally the differences were too great, and our grievances against one another too numerous to remain friends. Our parting coincided with my move to Green Point, with growing up in general. I could say with finality that my life was no longer the dive bar and the struggling musician. My life was wine geekery, trips to France to meet growers, clients and sales and dining in restaurants that provoked jealousy in my hometown friends. I’d arrived.

In the years between 2013 and the present, I should have known I was falling out of — if not love — at least like — with the city. When I left on my various trips, I felt better; when I returned I felt worse. Circling the runway at JFK or LaGuardia, I’d start to feel the anxiety coming back, I’d dread the taxi line and the rush of people, the brusk, all-business attitude of New Yorkers, readily construed as assholes. There were many tearful cab rides home from the airport, staring out the window at the ugliness.

For a number of those years, I was in a relationship with J, a guy who had a child for whom he’d have lost custody if he’d left the city. Part of the reason I didn’t think about leaving was that I hoped he and I would work things out, which would mean staying until his daughter was in college.

The other reason I didn’t start leaving sooner was that I didn’t know where to go. Phrased like this to myself: “In 2007 God came down and told me to go to New York. I’m waiting for God to come down again. I want to have the same certainly in my gut that I had when I arrived.” I’ve never been particularly concerned with where I live as long as I like what I’m doing there, but I’m a snob. Experience and expertise have set me up for particular types of jobs, which don’t exist everywhere. It doesn’t have to be a blue state, but it does have to be a liberal bubble.

It was an on-again-off-again type of romance with J because we didn’t fit even though we loved each other, and during an off-again period, the first half of 2014, I had several other casual relationships, and with them came revelations about dating as a woman in my mid-30s in New York City. Single men in New York in their mid-30s are the worst. If a man in New York in the mid-30s is single, it’s probably because either consciously or sub, he likes to play the field, and the field is endless strewn with attractive women who enable the play. None of these guys were bad people, but when I scratched the surface of our interactions, I found a void of both intimacy and integrity for which I was equally responsible.  Not wanting to consign myself to these childish dating rituals, I went back to my imperfect relationship with J, hoping against hope that we could make it work.

J dumped me via email while I was on a work trip to Champagne in the spring of 2016.

A few months later, in the summer of 2016, I was in North Carolina working on my parents’ house, now my house. N, a man from my childhood came back into my life after a seven year hiatus. In spite of his youth (he’s not yet 30), he seemed to behave with more integrity and to possess more emotional intelligence than any man I’d met in New York in years. N’s impact on my life was as follows: he made me yearn for something different, for space and trees, for a life less hard.

Then in the winter of 2017, the elderly Polish couple who owned my building in Brooklyn decided to sell. The new buyer more than doubled the rent, and my roommate and I were extruded onto the New York real estate market, grappling with the stark reality of what our salaries got us as in this rapidly gentrifying corner of the world.

A big part of the motivation to be in New York is ambition. Ambition brings us there, and ambition makes us feel like failures if and when we leave. Leaving New York could only ever be a lateral move because all the good jobs are in New York, the wine luminaries; the prestige and the fame swish and buzz around you and you feel constantly like you’re on the verge of a Big Break. Ambition makes us tolerate the harsh and stressful conditions of our daily lives. For years I carried around — along with my knee-breaking bag of wine samples through Union Square of 42nd Street at rush hour — the sensation that I wasn’t quite done with New York, that there was still some ephemeral thing I needed to accomplish.

In her essay “My City” Dani Shapiro writes “The city … made it very possible to continue like this, carried along on a stream of light, motion, energy, noise. The city was a bracing wind that never stopped blowing, and I was a lone leaf slapped up against the side of building, a hydrant, a tree.”

In order to leave, I had to relinquish some of my ambition. Or rather, I traded it in for a slightly easier life. My priorities have changed a lot over the past couple of years. I no longer need to taste every wine, to dine at every fashionable restaurant, to rub elbows with celebrity sommeliers and importers and writers. Now I’m looking for something else: calm, peace of mind, a healthy life. I no longer have something to prove to my industry. I do, however, have something to prove to myself: that I can take my dissatisfaction, my agency over my future, and create change, that I can be happy somewhere else.

I’m as yet not quite done with the book, but so far the sentiment that’s resonated with me most comes from Liza Monroy in her essay ‘A War Zone For Anyone Looking For Love.’ “I wonder, if you come from somewhere else and stay long enough, whether New York is a place you inevitably outgrow, whether you take from it what you can, then go. If that was the case, I didn’t realize it until I had a reason to leave — not because I failed, but because I found something worth leaving for, the kind of love I thought I was only imagining existed.”

I moved to Colorado just after Christmas. In a month I’m starting a job for Division Winemaking Company, an Oregon winery. They offered me an amazing gig helping them grow, traveling the country selling their wines, which I happen to really like. They offered me the opportunity to learn more about winemaking by working the harvest with them in the fall. I’ll be spending lots of time in Portland, which is a pretty great town. In my dotage I’ve become extremely interested in winemaking, and this gig gets me closer to the press, the fermenter, and the barrel than any job in New York could.

Doing pigéage at Southeast Winery Collective.

But I’m not going to lie: it feels weird. I miss my friends, and I have no idea who I am or who I’ll become in this strange, frigid, snowy land with the huge sky and the weirdly friendly people.

 

 

I really thought this post was going to be about my next step in life, because you, dear reader (insert note of sarcasm here) are on the edge of your seat wondering what I’m doing with myself post New York, where I’m headed, and for whom I’ll be working. I was going to tell you, and one day I will tell you, but something happened this week that cried out for documentation.

Last month my boss sent a rather surprising email. In it he told us that the company was going to begin representing a very high end sherry house called Bodegas Alonso. Apparently of impeccable reputation in Europe and Japan, Bodegas Alonso had decided that New York would be its next market. The email was surprising because … how do I put this? We’re not exactly a high end sherry house kind of book. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited. I love sherry, and I drink it often.

The youngest wine in the collection: Manzanilla “Madura” (9-10 years old). The bottle is Jura-esque … so is the wine.

Of the more conventional sherry houses on the radar in the NYC wine geek world, I’m especially fond of Valdespino (for Fino and Palo Cortado), Gutierrez Colosia (for Oloroso), Barbadillo (for Manzanilla En Rama), Cesar Florido (for Fino Cipiona), the list goes on … While I’m ignorant about sherry relative to many of my peers, it’s part of a group of wines I seek out for personal pleasure rather than for work. I particularly like biologically aged sherries (Fino, Manzanilla) and am certainly addicted to the aromas and flavors of flor. Oxidatively aged sherries (Oloroso) don’t generally speak to me as much, but that said I’ve happily sucked down many glasses of Sangre Y Trabajadero in my time. (I also used to carry it to my place in Brooklyn in my bike’s water bottle cage, taking a sip here and there to keep warm on cold journeys home.)

In fact being somewhat ignorant about sherries, never having travelled to Jeréz, not taking part in either the events surrounding them or the politics, makes me somewhat open minded, a relatively blank slate where sherry is concerned, with little more than vague knowledge of my own preferences.

My boss sent us some information about Bodegas Alonso, which I read several times trying to get my head around the story, and basically told us that for three days in early November we were to drop everything and make sure their importer, a fabulous woman named Jill Mott, was put in front of as many of the best buyers in the city as possible. Full-disclosure, my reaction was mixed. While I was absolutely positive the wines would be excellent, reaching buyers in early November can be tough, particularly with unknown, pricey, and esoteric goods. Nonetheless, we did our best, and anticipated Jill Mott’s visit with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Bodegas Alonso is project of patrimony preservation. The brothers Asencio purchased three vital cellars in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and with them many old, un-refreshed botas of wine. The cellars were those of Gaspar Florido, Pedro Romero, and Fernando Méndez. As Jill describes it, when the brothers began to taste wine out of these very old casks, they quickly realized they had to make this their life’s work, the continuation and preservation of tradition. The Asencio brothers also have vineyards of their own in superior locations, which they farm biodynamically. From these vineyards they will make their own Manzanilla solera. There’s a sort of past meets future quality to this story, which obviously raises the question: what about the middle? The answer is somewhat unclear (at least to me, but I think possibly to them as well. One day at a time.). For the moment, the brothers have elected to release tiny quantities of very old vine, the youngest of which is 35, the oldest of which is 120.

The numbers on the label indicate the number of casks that exist of each wine.

It is impossible to mentally prepare oneself for the way these wines smell and taste, likewise the emotional response they evoke. At least for your humble narrator, it was also impossible to compare and contrast them because the lines between Oloroso, Amontillado, and Palo Cortado ran blurry, and in some ways the style of each cellar: Florido, Romero, Méndez, spoke louder than the “type” of sherry itself. I discovered a new fondness for Oloroso, for these oxidatively aged sherries have no sweetness and are full of glorious, penetrating acidity. It became abundantly clear right away that these wines bear little resemblance to wine as I know it. With some sips, they resonated like Jura wines, with deeply savory notes of mushrooms and celery, broth-y elixirs. With others, they seemed more like fine spirits: Cognacs and the like … It’s certainly the case that one needs only a few drops to be satisfied. The wines are incredibly mouth-filling and intense. The flavors linger for minutes on the palate; the aromas linger for hours on the skin. With an anecdote of one of the Asencio brothers getting epically laid after dabbing himself with 100+ year old Palo Cortado, we considered re-branding these as perfumes rather than potables. The sensuality of these very old wines is beyond language …

Which brings me to my next observation about these wines: they were utterly striking to every taster, and seemed to alter the quality of the moment, to take the drinker outside of her of himself. What started out a wide eyed “holy shit” stare upon nosing and sipping the first old wine, Amontillado from the Gaspar Florido cellar, turned into a glazed, reverent semi-coma by the end of the tasting.

My best example of the effect these wines have comes from Flora Bar on the ground floor of Met Breuer Museum. The buyer certainly had other things to do, cases to put away, staff meal to eat before service, menus to reprint, a meeting to prep the servers, and yet we lost track of time completely, sitting outside in the late afternoon sun, allowing these insanely complex flavors to wash over us, talking about flamenco, as I recall. It was like the normal world, chalk full of busy subways and technological overload somehow ceased to exist as long as there was old sherry in the glass. He turned to me at a certain point and said “I didn’t know it was going to be this kind of tasting. You told me we were just tasting some sherries!” I protested “I did my best given the information I had. I didn’t know the magnitude myself.” How could one possibly know?

I’m still processing this experience. I’m amazed that wine my grandmother’s age can be so delicious. Our discussions over Jill’s visit made me ponder the fact that normal drinkers are used to the flavors of young, fresh wine. Everything these days is made for fast consumption: quick, gobble it up, slurp it down, and get ready for the next hot thing. Mature flavors, as popular as they are amongst geeks, are a hard sell to standard issue guests and shoppers. Like a lot of things in the world today, this made me sad. Then, I thought, there’s nothing to be sad about. I’m so lucky to have the chance to taste these. My understanding of both wine and life will be subtly altered because of them.

Oct
3

The Spark.

“And all the time there was that sound — why not call it a sound? — a sense of inaudible music which accompanies such things & is heard as tho’ beneath the open windows of a veiled mansion. It always was like that except once the music wd. make itself properly heard. Now it reminds me sadly of how I felt & so for a moment I forgot I’m supposed to be an old master & become an apprentice once more, all ears and full of longing.” – James Hamilton Patterson, Gerontius. 

Please discover this writer if you have not already.

I don’t actually know Ernest very well. He’s our Italian importer; he lives in Tuscany with his wife and son. He’s a unique character, not cuddly, rather angular (not physically; he’s really quite debonair, sophisticated, mysterious) and opinionated, a truth teller … qualities that make a great wine importer. At any rate, each time our paths have crossed long enough for more than “hello” I’ve sensed tremors in the foundation of my belief system, not the support beams, more like distant rumblings under a recent corner addition. Does that make sense?

We were having dinner with Jamie from Chambers Street, torching our mouths with Laotian chili, and I was talking about being a farming nerd. Ernest interjected “No. No that’s not why I’m in it. To talk about farming. Honestly I find farming kinda boring.” He proceeded to explain — if I’m interpreting correctly — not that he doesn’t care about farming, rather that he cares most about the aesthetics of wine. What’s in the glass has to grab you. There’s gotta be a spark, intrigue, something that makes you go back for another sip to try to figure it out. For Ernest, so specialized in Italian wine, it’s bitterness. The bitterness of the tannins and the sharp, rustic acidity, bitterness that interplays with the fat and salt of the food, bitterness that mirrors the pain of death and forms the counterpoint to the sweet, richness of love. Did I go too far?

The spark stuck in my craw after this conversation over fiery Laotian food, the divine inspiration, the thing that gets us off our asses and makes us give a shit. It seems unfashionable these days to talk about “divine inspiration.” We’re very blasé; we’re jaded; we’re scientific not religious, and yet many who gravitate toward wine maintain a certain spirituality, hold tight to a kernel of ‘that which can’t be said’ to justify a life’s work in this trade. Over the past better part of a year, it’s been maximally convenient for me to let the spark lie dormant, to tell myself that I don’t really care that much about wine anymore, that I just need to make a dime, and the details don’t matter.

Why? Because (this will not come as a surprise to most of you) I’m about to leave New York. That’s right, folks. January I’m out, gone, bye bye, farewell NYC. Not only am I leaving, but I’m not going to another major city. I’m going to the ‘burbs, the country, somewhere with trees and humans in more equal proportions. Follow me closely on this one: New York is the most interesting wine city in America; of both wine and jobs it has the best and the most. Then there are other cities, which also have good wine and good jobs. Is this is Urban elitism? Maybe, but it’s also true. To leave New York — to leave the city — is to sacrifice that, and in order to make the sacrifice, to see the plan through, to pack up and go, it’s highly convenient to say “but I don’t care that much anymore, anyway.” Ah the stories we tell ourselves, and our ability to convince ourselves of their truth …

And so Ernest came to town, we had dinner with Jamie, and I started to think about the spark. Not to miss it because it’s still there, rather to ponder again its role in my life. My dear friend John McIlwain likes to recall a time when I was behind the desk at the front of the shop. He was a Chambers Street customer then. He’d ask about Champagnes, and his rule of thumb was that if I jumped out of my chair at the mention of a particular wine, then he knew to buy two bottles. The spark made me do that … now I think about it.

Last night I opened a bottle from the heyday of the spark, just to see what was going on, a little time capsule. It was Thomas Perceval Brut Rosé. In the winter of 2015, I went to France with Cory and Wolfgang. One of our missions was to find some Champagne for Selection Massale. Thomas Perceval is a young winemaker we met on that trip. He’s a friend of Aurélian Laherte, whence the contact. Thomas was about to release his first wines, 2012 base Extra Brut and Brut Rosé from Premier Cru vineyards in Chamery in the petit montagne (vineyards surrounding Reims to the south and southwest). Clearly engaged in the kind of work we believe in (organic farming, native yeast fermented base wines, minimal sugar and sulfur additions), it was a promising first meeting. When I got back to New York, I set about trying to convince Thomas to sell us his wine. And in the end, he did.

100% 2012, 50% Pinot, 20% Meunier, 30% Chardo. 18 months on lees, disgorged in March of 2015.

Like Thomas’ Brut Reserve, which I checked in on a few months ago, Thomas’ Rosé is even better now than it was: cranberry and toasty strawberry on the nose finely integrated with chalkiness and a firm, mineral backbone. It’s creamy, expressive and tensile, vinous, but joyful on its own, without food. I love this wine. It made me forget I’m supposed to be the old master. It made me feel like the apprentice again, all ears and full of longing. And I think this is the right state of being in which to leave New York. As yet I’ve only spoken of the sacrifice, with no mention of the benefits, which will doubtless be innumerable, hopefully enlivened by the spark as well as all kinds of other emotions I’ve yet to imagine.

 

What does it mean to be jaded? A decade in this wine gig, and my idealism is in tatters. The passion of the first 5 years is basically gone, and I’m pretty much just interested in the quotidian tasks that pay my bills. Only one objective truth remains: some vineyard work is better than other vineyard work. The rest is just a matter of taste: white or orange or pink or red, sparkling or still, oaky or not, old or young; there’s no right or wrong. I’m through chasing the holy grail of great, obscure, or esoteric wine, tired of endlessly discussing the quest. I can’t even remember the last time I cracked a wine book (oh wait; it was David White’s But First, Champagne!), and going out for non-work-related meals fills me with resentment. I’d rather be home with the cats … 

These were my thoughts as I wandered west Harlem Sunday morning, the hot, late summer sun further dappling my shoulders, the chatter of Hispanic families en route to church filling the air, their exotic perfumes wafting behind. This is why I can’t write a good blog post to save my life these days, I thought, because I’m no longer on a mission. I’m just doing a job.

The political climate has more than dampened my spirit. The present drama in our government has made pretty much everyone I know feel powerless, scared, enraged. We’ve also lost any self-importance we may have had. We grasp that our work is totally trivial in the face of the unrest in our world today. Rome is burning. We are a luxury, niche market, a market that thrives in specific cosmopolitan bubbles, a market that has nothing to do with large swaths of America where dinner out is consumed at Chipotle or Panera Bread in a strip mall, after which you get in your car to drive home and consume another few hours of pre-packaged entertainment before going to bed. Many places in this country have no independent restaurants! People eat at fast-casual chain restaurants, every day!

I dislike myself as I type, try to abandon the judgement, the snobbery that attends the words. No matter how much I try to suppress it, snobbery born out of years in the bubble bubbles to the surface. But then I have another gut reaction, something along the lines of: what’s the fucking point of any of this if I can’t touch people outside the bubble? I’m not interested in the bubble. I know the bubble. I am the bubble. What’s the point if every wine sermon is preached to the choir? I’d like to be out, talking to people who think differently and drink differently, even if it means missing the latest release of the next hip thing, or possibly sharing a meal with a republican.

Two of the more thought-provoking drinks I enjoyed on my recent vacation were sipped on the patio of a mall in Irvine, California. I had not had a glass of wine in a week, and was resolved that if there was something potable on the menu (doubtful) at a Trattoria next to the Macy’s, I’d order it. To my surprise there were several potable beverages, and I had a glass of Spreitzer Riesling followed by glass of Monte Bernardi Chianti. Sure the Spreitzer was more sulfury than I’d have liked, and the Monte Bernardi was just too damn clawed from the earth and soulful to pair with the sterile, shiny, oh-so American glitz of southern California, but the point is that here was an intersection between the niche industry I work in, and the everyman world in which most Americans drink and dine. On some level those two glasses of wine were more interesting than the last somm-praised white Burgundy I nosed, the latest cool Pet-Nat, or over-priced Foillard I swished and spat.

These are dark political times, and for me personally, these are — not dark — but transitional times in my relationship with wine and the trade. But there’s no point further dwelling on the confusion. I read and watch the news every single day, and until the 2018 election cycle heaves into view, I don’t know what I can do beyond remain active and informed. Certainly when it comes to doing my job, it’s better to focus on the positive. I’ve read about the “atmosphere of buying,” and to cultivate that, you need a positive attitude, and a big shiny smile. So. What has inspired me recently? What is there to be positive about? I asked myself. What has cut through the mire? What is better under Trump than it was under Obama? The answer? Falkenstein. Erich and Johannes Weber of Hofgut Falkenstein made the best wines they’ve ever made in 2016. And I visited them for the first time in May.

Swoon-worthy god nectar.

My partner in crime, Amanda, and I had slept at Immich-Batterieberg the night before, and Gernot put us in a room together, which resulted in a slumber party-esque giggle fest that lasted until 4am, so I was a little loopy driving from Enkirch to the Saar. It didn’t help that German roads confuse the crap out of me, and there seemed to be no correspondence between my gps and the road signs. But eventually we made it, half an hour late.

They got a road named after them.

It was a glorious day: temperatures in the 60s, the sun shining, the sky purest blue. Erich promptly told me to put my notebook away, and I’ve never regretted my lack of notes from the visit, which washed over and through me like a cleansing tonic. Why was it not so important to take notes that day? The wines of Hofgut Falkenstein have a particular character. Each vineyard has a personality, likewise the vintage has something to say (please read Cari’s article for more details on the 2016 vintage, and subscribe to Lars’ website); the ripeness level establishes a specific pitch in which the tune is sung. It’s all right there. Once the variables are established, we know more or less how the wines will taste. Furthermore my scribbled notes could no more approximate the glory of the 2016 vintage at Falkenstein than my shitty photos do justice to the beauty of the day.

For the first hour, we stood in the Niedermenniger Herrenberg, talking, Johannes a bundle of energy as always, Lars, calm like an older brother, Erich a new entity, cracking jokes, making classical music references, and gently chiding us for spitting.

Ever popular with the ladies …

If it’s possible for a wine to act as caffeine, the 2016 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Kabinett Trocken did so. This wine is etched in my memory because it was consumed amidst delightful breezes and the vines that gave birth to it. The NHKT is important to the Webers; they make it virtually every vintage; it’s sort of a workhorse wine, one that speaks to their house style. It’s not flashy. In general Rieslings from the Herrenberg are less flashy than Rieslings from the Euchariusberg (the Weber’s other significant vineyard). The Herrenberg gives herbal, mellow, blue fruit, lemon and lime, less of the impressive, kaleidoscopic stone fruits and tropical notes that characterize the Euchariusberg especially in riper iterations. This is the perfect morning wine, I thought, watching a cat sunning herself between the vine rows, a wine that nourishes and revives. 

Tasting in the Herrenberg.

We continued to taste, up to the Auslese level. In 2016 the PHs weren’t as low as they were in 2015. However, the vintage was less ripe overall than 2015, which means that even though acidity was higher in 2015, the wines feel higher acid in 2016. Does that make sense? Ah Riesling. What would we do without you? Johannes’ eyes grow huge with excitement when he speaks about PHs of 2.6-2.7. 2016 is a superior vintage for Auslese … and for Spätlese, and the drier wines are none to shabby! We ate a marvelous lunch prepared by Mrs. Weber. We toured the cellar examining and sniffing the fuders.

I was shocked to learn when Johannes visited last year that the Webers do not use any tanks of any kind in their cellar. The fermentation and élèvage take place in old barrels; they make the wine as they’ve always made it. Native ferments, no inert vessels. Why is this surprising? Because the wines are so zesty, crisp, and clean, which doesn’t — in our minds — square with élèvage in barrel. These wines never taste like barrel, but rather — regardless of the Prädikat — like a procession of crunchy, tangy fruits, and slate-y minerals dancing along a taut wire.

In 2016, the Webers bottled a couple of single-fuder wines. Just when you thought German wine couldn’t get any geekier!

After lunch we went to the vineyards. (In fact we went all the way to the Scharzhofberg to gaze down upon Egon Müller’s fabled winery.) The Weber’s vineyards make a kind of bowl, half-circling the villages of Niedermennig and Krettnach. (The Scharzhofberg is just a bit further on.) First we looked at the sun-drenched Sonnenberg vineyard. Then we hopped out of the car and walked up the Euchariusberg, high and steep with lots of old (and somewhat frost bitten vines).

Finally we arrived at the Krettnacher Altenberg. We decided to stop here and taste the 2016er while overlooking the vineyard. For me, this wine had been an outlier in the lineup. Typically Herrenberg produces great dry and Feinherb wines, while Euchariusberg produces profound sweet wines. The Altenberg does what it wants. In 2014 it was Spätlese Trocken, and that particular marriage of ripe aromas and total austerity brought it some fans. In 2015, it was Spätlese Feinherb, and considerably sweeter, which of course pleased some and not others. In 2016, we’re back to Spätlese Trocken, and the wine has come into its own. Where the dry wines of Herrenberg are delicate and filigreed, the Altenberg is big and bold, like a pillar, unapologetically intense and packed with material.

There is no way to do photographic justice to this landscape

Naturally having had this scenic epiphany overlooking the Altenberg, I could not wait for the wine to arrive in New York, which it did a few weeks ago. Last week I had the pleasure of showing it one day, and saved half the bottle for the next — always a good strategy with young Riesling. On the second day, it took me back to the verdant slope; it captured my attention as fully and completely as it had on a May afternoon with Johannes, Lars, and Amanda. It took me away from the politics, for a moment pulled me out of the shit. This is why I do what I do. The wine brought hope and satisfaction, satisfaction qualitatively, and bizarrely akin to listening to republican congresspeople speak out against the president. It was quite miraculously restorative.

To avoid confusion, let the record state that I love crisp, dry, white wine. Many (if not the majority) of my favorite beverages on the planet are crisp, dry, white wines. At this very moment, for example, I’m tucking into a glass of 2015 Stein Blue Slate Riesling and it is divine. Smells like the most perfect green grapes, and tastes like the ripe, sun drenched yet miraculously high acid 2015 vintage in the Mosel. Did I mention that of all the acid/sugar balances possible in Rieslings from the Mosel, this is my favorite? Dry but not punishing, lean but with enough meat on the bones to be sexy. Ok cool. Now you know where I stand.

“crisp, dry, white” paradigm.

On May 12th at around 12:30pm, Chad Stock and I were sitting on a bench outside Everyman Espresso on 13th and 3rd. Chad makes the wine at Minimus, Omero Cellars, and Origin; he was talking about lots of things: Pinot Gris and its destiny as red wine, “flaws” and how they can be turned into virtues in the right context. Chad speaks about wine in a way that is mystic and unrestrained, by which I mean you get the sense he’s kind of a winemaking savant, also — not that he’s incapable of diplomatically censoring his views — rather that he often doesn’t see the point. What could possibly be wrong with speaking the truth as one sees it? Should we be ashamed of our opinions as long as we listen with respect to the opinions of others? Chad’s brand of radical honesty works wonders on clients; they get to spend a few minutes in his head, and so do I. It’s an interesting place to visit. His words tumble out at a breakneck pace; I go back and sort through them like a jumble of orders in my in-box 15 minutes before cutoff for next day delivery, trying to process the data before the next one arrives.

Chad Stock in his native land.

“I’m not interested in making simple wine; I don’t understand simple wine” Chad said (not quoting verbatim, but close). My gut reaction at this juncture was ‘woah hold on … there’s a place and a time for “simple” wine; sometimes I just want to drink wine, and I don’t want to think about.’ Let’s face it, most people out there don’t want to think about wine, or maybe once a year at Thanksgiving when they wonder what goes best with turkey and a jaded retailer sells them a bottle of Pinot Noir. But for the sake of our industry, whether or not they’re cognizant, we hope they continue to drink wine.

Minimus SM1 2016 with Spicy Scallion Ginger Porgy Ssäm at Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

Chad continued: “I think … you know … if you want to drink something after you mow the lawn, drink a fucking gin and tonic. That’s what gin and tonic is for.” A breeze of contradiction ruffled my shirt and dried the sweat on my brow: what I know of Chad versus the words coming out. These comments, spoken by another human, might have had the distinct ring of beverage elitism, but Chad isn’t a snob. He’s an artist, at times classical, at times avant-garde, protecting his art from crass imitation.

This post is an interpretive riff on what Chad was getting at, along with the trains of thought stirred up by my conversation with Chad. Wine is an alcoholic beverage with unique powers of expression: the soil, the grape, the weather, the oak, the bacteria, the yeasts, the hand of man … history, culture … all the things we gather under the umbrella of terroir, and more. The argument against “simple” wine is that wine is essentially complex; if you are looking for a “simple” experience with alcohol, have g and t, or a shot of Cuervo, or a nice, refreshing, ridiculously boring Grey Goose and soda. (Love to be able to say I won’t judge you if you drink vodka and soda, but I probably will … sorry!)

Is there an argument for simple wine? Probably. I’m not sure how to approach it. I genuinely believe that pretty much everyone I know — with a little bit of effort — can find well-made, every day wine with terroir and a sense of place, for not much money. Wine that can be consumed without much pomp and circumstance. Honestly it depends where you live. In America, it’s easier to find good wine were the cosmopolitan elites roam free. But I don’t consider this an argument for simple wine, rather for humble wine at an everyday price.

Pinot Grigio, a classic après law-mowing tipple.

The reason I initially rebelled against Chad’s anti-simple wine statement is that we who work in the business never want to imply: “Your time, place, way of drinking wine — not to mention what — is wrong, and I’m going to tell you why it’s wrong because I’m knowledgable and you’re ignorant.” (Unrelated: isn’t this the type of attitude that lost us liberals so much support amongst working class voters?? It’s an alienating attitude.) What we’d like to say is “Live and let live, and if you want to drink wine after mowing the lawn, go right ahead, just please make it my wine and not someone else’s because I need to make a living and we’ve got growers to support.” Our job is to make wine more accessible, and to do so we must try to avoid snobbery.

Every year the Webers make this dry kabinett Riesling from the Niedermenniger Herrenberg vineyard, a humble wine that is far from simple.

This issue I’d like to raise here is that “simple” wine, particularly simple “crisp, dry, white” has spoiled peoples’ palates for other styles of white wine, and that is unfortunate. I’m reminded of this almost every time I pour a tasting in a retail shop in New York. I can sell Gros Plant du Pays Nantais (which is essentially Muscadet made from a different grape) all night long, because Gros Plant has a flavor profile we’ve been taught is acceptable. But open up an even remotely rich or oxidative Chenin Blanc or Jura wine or Oregon Sauvignon Blanc, white Burgundy, you name it, and the response will all too often be: “it’s too sweet” (wrong) “it’s too oaky” (possibly oaked, yes, but by no means oaky) or a personal favorite “that’s just not for me”. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Why is this not for you? It’s not for you because at some point down the line you were told that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that smells like grapefruit juice and factory yeast, and tastes like blocked malolactic fermentation and 150 parts per million sulfur dioxide is good. That is the kind of “wine” you’ve been conditioned to like, and its flavors have poisoned you against the glorious, unctuous, and above all interesting flavors that are now in your glass. The irony is that industrial wine is not really simple; it’s been doctored in complicated ways that — were they transparently listed — would make anyone who cares what they put in their body cringe. Just like fast food.

My theory is that the fashion for crisp, dry, white is at its roots a rebellion against the sweet, oaky Chardonnays of yore, which is legitimate. California did some disgusting things to Chardonnay, and some equally brutal things to its reputation. Oy vey the frequency with which people tell me they “don’t usually like Chardonnay.” You were taught to say that, weren’t you? The fact is Chardonnay is a blank slate. Chardonnay takes on the flavors it’s bequeathed by terroir and the hand of man. Yes that’s right, people: Chardonnay can taste like ANYTHING, and if you had some bad ones, it’s not the grape’s fault, but rather a wine factory that went a little crazy with the oak chips. I can’t negate your bad experiences, but I can ask you to be open minded regarding Chardonnay for it is one of the planet’s noble white varieties.

Part two of my theory on how crisp, dry white has wrecked our palates has to do with the way Americans drink alcohol, and of course every time I’m in Europe this is brought home to me yet again. Americans love wines that can be drunk on their own. We tend think of wine as a drug, whereas Europeans tend to think of wine as a food. Drinking wine after mowing the lawn is like saying “I just did something hard (questionable if you have a ride-on mower), I deserve to relax, let me now have some alcohol to help me do that.” There’s nothing wrong with this, but compare it to the French attitude: “On va manger du homard ce soir, donc je chercherai un bon Condrieu pour boire avec …” (“We’re having lobster tonight; I’m going to look for a good Condrieu to drink with it.”) The appeal of this attitude is that is treats the wine as part of the meal. It gives wine the respect it deserves as an art form and an expression of terroir by placing it at the dinner table rather than on the coffee table next to the remote control.

Roseau Condrieu with lobster bisque.

Condrieu is on my mind because I had one open last week, a beautiful bottle from Benoït Roseau. Given, this wine is expensive, as all Condrieu are, but regardless of price, this is a style of wine that is not exactly in vogue (for people under age 50-60) because it is the opposite of a “crisp, dry white.” It’s a big, broad, glorious white with a panoply of flavors ranging from peach and apricot and bitter orange, to the granite soils of the slope. But it’s not a convenient cocktail wine. It’s a food wine. So if you’re looking to take some bottles to the dome while gossiping with friends on the roof deck, Condrieu is not an ideal choice. I’d go so far as to say Condrieu is difficult to drink without food, a laudable quality in a wine.

Turning my attention to red wine for a moment. It seems to me that red has not met the same fate as white. Do others agree? While big reds may not be popular in some geek circles, and while palates that matured during the parker era may find Mondeuse or Loire Valley Gamay shrill (“it’s so sour“), for the most part there’s a drinking audience for both light and heavy, for both fruity and tannic, and for essentially the entire spectrum in between.

I don’t know why red wine hasn’t suffered the same blow at the hand of fashion as white, but I find it especially frustrating when thinking about Jura wine. The Jura is a great white wine region, and an interesting, quirky red wine region. The most profound wines of this place are white, and while the reds can be delicious and fun, they are relatively simple compared to the whites. And yet, it’s the reds everyone seems to be looking for. Jura whites languish on the retail shelf, while reds waltz out the door. It’s a shame. It’s time to bring rich, textured white wines back to prominence. It’s time — not to reject crisp, dry, white — but rather to bring back the context for rich white, which is the table. Let us embrace the complexity of full-bodied white wine; let us make it accessible; let us encourage contemplation, pairing, wine as an art and a companion rather than wine as mere alcohol.