My apologies in advance for a post that is somewhat scattered and unfocused in its content, also less about wine than about how we interact with it. Of late, my brain has been largely occupied by things that are not wine: big changes and life stuff. Truth be told, I haven’t been drinking much wine recently. There’s been sobriety, also Pimm’s and Pastis. I’ve been trying to track down the person I was before wine who wrote stories and philosophy papers and woke up bright eyed in the morning. (This person remains fairly elusive, but I catch glimpses of her from time to time. Right now she’s on the couch with iTunes open wondering why RZA didn’t use an oxford comma in the title of “drink, smoke and fuck.”) I’m beginning to realize – in this phase of relative moderation – that I might prefer talking and writing about wine to drinking it. This train of thought lead me to ask myself which wine writers are my favorites, which brought me to Brooklynguy, who did such a lovely job bringing wines to life through these bizarre chains of symbols.
As most of you know, Brooklynguy recently retired his blog. He’d been writing it for years; he had an avid readership, and the blog had been with him through his evolution as a wine drinker, as well as through many changes in his life. He had moments of great personal transparency with his audience, understanding that they read his stuff not just because they valued his opinions about wine and liked his prose, but because they liked him. His moments of personal disclosure were well done – like having a heart-to-heart in his kitchen over a glass of Sherry while he whipped up a snack involving little oily fishes and Japanese seasonings. It was a charismatic blog, and as much as I struggled with his palate’s ascendance from humble to baller wine, he’s my kind of writer, and I already miss his voice.
Indulge me in a brief anecdote from my past with Susannah: A little over six years ago Susannah picked me up from the airport in Raleigh. I had just learned that my mom was dying, and I had no idea what the next day, week, month would hold. A New York cousin was with us in the back seat of the car. I don’t know why Susannah and I immediately began to chatter about bottles – certainly it was a coping mechanism as wine was not in the forefront of my mind. After five or ten minutes, my cousin – who had until that point remained silent – said: “I’d love to see you both in a one act play; the dialogue is great! We need to get you guys on the stage!” We’ve always loved the “parole” of wine, Susannah and I, and the fact that we don’t always agree makes our parole all the better.
Pietramarina revealed itself to be a rich, deeply-hued wine based on Carricante, possessed of such an intense and mouth-coating mineral backbone that it could have masqueraded as an orange wine though there’s no skin contact in the elevage. The aromas were at once beeswax-y and tomato leafy, pine nutty, fennel-y, and sanguine. It had the dry, brushy, wild character of an Assyrtiko from Santorini. It spoke clearly of its desert island origins.
My initial reaction was a totally banal “wow this definitely isn’t a French wine!” Meaning what? Italian white wines are capable of a masculinity rarely found in French wine. The French have a deeper tradition of white wine production, with many regions better known for white than for red. In Italy, white wine seems to sit on the shoddy back burner, an after thought to the red wine. And my association with Italian white wine – even though I know many great ones – is with cheap Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, and insipid Soave. Perhaps this is partially why the orange wine style gained such traction in Italy; orange wine exists in total opposition to yeasted, fruity, and sulfur-y Pinot Grigio.
Susannah mentioned that – like me – she generally tends to think of white wines are having female attributes, taking me back to my first encounter with a truly feminine white wine. It was Grosjean Frères Petite Arvine, which is (ironically) an Italian wine, but from the Vallée D’Aoste, which is practically France (or rather Switzerland). When I smelled the aromatic white flowers, the honeysuckle, the pristine, white Alpine mineral core, and when I tasted the round, succulent stone fruits on the wine’s midpalate, it was as though a voluptuous, Nordic heroine had entered the room.
Since then, white wines have often manifested themselves as women in my mind, having the attributes of real-life females: the fake-y, baby-voiced TriBeCa housewife finds her parallel in the cloying New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and there can be no doubt that the classy, timeless female beauties of yore: Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor are physical embodiments of Chenin Blanc grown in the great terroirs of the Loire Valley.
A favorite Atlanta customer of mine sent me his review a few days ago of the 2010 Domaine Aux Moines Savennières “Roche Aux Moines” he’d bought from us. I’ll quote him and hope he doesn’t mind: “It’s just a stunning, multi-faceted wine, a perfect example of Chenin Blanc at its best and most complex, citrusy one sip, rich and caramel-y the next, and a blend of lemon and honey on the third.” I was reminded of a type of female beauty that combines slightly quirky physical attractiveness – the full figures that used to be popular before waifish-ness became a virtue – with a complex and amusing personality. If this wine were a woman she wouldn’t be young, and she wouldn’t be fake; as she aged, she’d have gained in complexity, so that personality and looks were totally knit together to stunning overall effect. Perhaps she’d be like my mom … To me, very good dry Chenin Blanc is incredibly appealing wine, but its breath-taking nature isn’t obvious to all, and especially not to people who are used to anorexic white wines. I’m thrilled each time someone I know gets down with a big-boned white wine and loves it.
When you meet Dominique Hauvette, you start to understand the clunky, earthy yet undeniably real character of her rosé wines, and the stern, charmless nature of her reds. The wines are superb, but there’s no give at all. These wines are not going to suck up to you or coddle you; they’re going to beat you over the head with terroir. With these things in mind, I was excited to taste how Dominique Hauvette’s taciturnity would express itself in a white wine. I took the bottle home, and unfortunately left it in the freezer over night. It was the second bottle I’d frozen in a week, and I was kicking myself because freezing mangles wine completely. I allowed it to thaw in the fridge for a few days, and was astonished to find it totally unharmed and indescribably delicious with a gorgeous, lush array of honeyed, almost tropical fruits on the palate. At 13.5% alcohol, it was not the slightest bit shy, but the sweet viscosity of the alcohol seemed to escort the sexy, peachy, pine-y flavors as they danced across the palate. It’s a muscular wine, sturdy enough to withstand freezing, unapologetically full-bodied, but comfortable in its skin and with every element in balance.
By the end of the bottle, Susannah and I had concluded that Pietramarina was more masculine than feminine. I’m not sure we agreed on his look, but I imagine he’s a mid-thirties surfer with dirty blond, scruffy facial hair. While not exactly my “type,” it was delicious, thought provoking, and an excellent conversation piece.
We began to ask ourselves if all white wines are either male or female, or if some are totally sexless. My thoughts drifted to 2013 Pepière Clos des Briords. “You know” I pondered aloud “my boss recently described 2013 Clos des Briords as ‘atmospheric’.” If the wine is neither man nor woman, maybe it’s atmosphere. I read my boss’ description shortly before I tried the wine, so perhaps it influenced my tasting, but I found that drinking this wine was like walking on the rocky, blustery coast of Brittany, sea spray in my face, wet stones underfoot. The frame was so delicate, the lemon-lime fruit so sheer — a mere whisper on the horizon. Drinking the wine, I felt as though a fine, coastal mist was dampening me on a cool, spring day.
I pulled this quote from an Adam Gopnick article in The New Yorker.
“In truth, language seems less like a series of cells in which we are imprisoned than like a set of tools that help us escape; some of the files are rusty; some will open any door; and most you have to jiggle around in the lock. But, sooner or later, most words work.”
Trying to make words fit wines is a meaningless yet eternally entertaining pursuit.