Category: Wine Criticism

Portugal’s Ageworthy White Wines and the Cinderella Myth

When most folks think of Portuguese white wine, they think of Vinho Verde, and involuntarily dredge up a tired set of stereotypes:

“This wine is only good up to a year after release. This wine is fizzy and sweet. This wine isn’t serious — it’s just cheap and easy.”

This does a disservice to a country whose wines will dazzle so many serious wine drinkers. Shortest internet quiz ever:

Are you always adding slices of lemon to your drinking water?

If so, you’re not just doing something healthy, you’re predisposed to amazing, undervalued Portuguese white wines. You crave acid and citrus — the very heart and soul of Portuguese whites grown in granite soils.

Two Portuguese regions are dominated by granite: Vinho Verde and the Dão, and each produce stunning whites. And yes, even Vinho Verde makes terroir-driven wines that can age. Vinho Verde is the land of acid surprises, and below are only a few examples of what you can buy without flying to Lisbon for fairly absurd prices. (Click to Read more)

The Wildness That Courses Through Languedoc Reds

There’s a 400 lb monster that rustles through the garrigues of the Languedoc, a snarling, horned beast with an appetite for grapes.

It can destroy an entire vineyard in a single night. And each vigneron is convinced it only wants their grapes. “It LOVES Vermentino!’ “Ah, but it doesn’t just eat Vermentino, I can assure you! It destroyed 75% of one of my vineyards in one night — 15% of my crop!”

Surrounding your vineyard with electrified wire helps a bit, but ultimately, you can’t be present day and night to protect it. Only solution? Call in the hunters.

A great deal of the Languedoc is still an untamed, wild place, especially near the Cévennes National Park, where these wild boars roam.  Unsurprisingly, the wild boars wander down from the forest into vineyards; and perhaps equally unsurprisingly, this wild side of Languedoc terroir wanders into the wines — particularly the red blends.

Consider Jean-Marie Rimbert’s Saint-Chinian ‘Le Mas Au Schiste’. I’ve consumed cases of this wine over the years, and always wondered exactly what accounted for the unique, savage aromas that course through it.

2010 Domaine Rimbert Mas Au Schiste and Provençal rabbit with garlicky beans.
2010 Domaine Rimbert Saint-Chinian Mas Au Schiste, with Provençal rabbit and garlicky beans.

The 2010 Rimbert Saint-Chinian Mas Au Schiste brings to mind fading roses, bitter chocolate, sweet candied fennel, (Click to Read more)

Deep Thoughts after IPOB: Wine as Photograph, Ripeness as Saturation

deep thoughts
And now, it’s time for Deep Thoughts . Click for a Deep Thought.

The In Pursuit of Balance (or IPOB, to sound like an insider) tastings and seminars have established themselves as a powerful force in shaping the discourse of wine criticism and perhaps even production. Jasmine Hirsch and Rajat Parr’s pet project has grown into a tasting that’s almost become a ‘who’s who’ of the wine world.

Their initial complaint was quite simply that domestic wines are often too ripe, too hot, too big, too everything; and that we must reclaim a sense of balance in our wines to access the best Sonoma terroir has to offer.

Many have since accused them of driving up prices and proffering illegible, contradictory notions of balance. Each time a threshold is set (say, an eminently reasonable maximum alcohol at 14.5%) some valid counterexamples arise to explode the rule; and by necessity a more vaguely iterated allusion to balance follows.

The annual New York City IPOB event passed through last February, and I enjoyed the chance to taste a number of Sonoma wines I’d wanted to test for some time, but never could, as I had nearly always rather spend money on Burgundy. The ‘Pursuit’ portion of the tasting is no joke, as I tried a few wines that still struck me as patently unbalanced, and a few others that were ravishing and surprised me with an earthy character.

But it was an audience member’s question during a seminar that has haunted me these last few months. The seminar discussed Triumphs and Failures in the Pursuit of Balance, and brave, honest winemakers were asked to present an example of a vintage they were proud of, and one they weren’t — each from the same vineyard.

Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards spoke about how he wished they’d picked his 2009 Peay Vineyards Ama Estate Pinot Noir two days earlier. To view the original interview, do so here (exact time is at 1:01:11): http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/59186856

The critical question for Andy Peay is this:

Well, we’re talking about expression of vineyard; this is the same vineyard, it’s just basically a two-day difference. So, maybe you’re not getting what you wanted out of that vintage, but at the same time it IS the expression of the vineyard; it’s just … two days later?

Andy Peay responds (Click to Read more)