Just about every wine collector feels a magnetic pull when passing a wine shop: let’s admit it, wine collecting is addictive on some level. Once you know a wise buyer is running a good shop, it’s hard to resist popping in to peruse a few sections.

Sometimes, though, it’s an entirely different game. Every New York City wine collector I’ve known has gone slumming at least a few times.

Slumming is braving busted-ass wine shops, most often with highly suspect cold storage, searching for mispriced wines. Your higher-tier cuvées selling at entry-level prices; say, Goldkapsel Riesling selling as standard Riesling; or Sesti Brunello selling at Sesti Monteleccio prices. It can happen in any number of shops, but it happens most often in dirty, disorganized ones, with rudderless and woefully underpaid staff.

I’m talking about shops with weird, stained, dusty, damaged wines all over the place; Lord  knows when or where they got the wines. Shops where a high turnover means there’s no knowledgeable, passionate staff, where there really isn’t any consistent logic driving the selections; it’s strictly profit margins and opportunity.

Slumming doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a slum. Far from it! It’s actually the middle of Manhattan (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):

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)

The Many Faces of Granite: A Visit to the Clape Cellar in Cornas

Interview with Winemaker Olivier Clape: Climate Change and the Changing Faces of Cornas; How Alsatian Barrels Ended up in the Clape Cellar; Why Clape St Péray Will Be Even Better; 2013 and 2014 Barrel Sample and 2012 Cornas Tasting Notes

Olivier Clape
Olivier Clape.

Cornas, like all Northern Rhône Syrah, is a study in granite. Its different faces; different exposures, different densities and grades. Each vineyard yields a different iteration, which becomes readily apparent while tasting barrels divided by vineyard sites.

Doing so at Domaine Auguste Clape is the chance of a lifetime to witness this. The domaine has been universally celebrated as benchmark Cornas by everyone from Robert Parker to Kermit Lynch (an odd couple indeed).

Even though the Clape cellar is as rustic as can be — covered in a dense layer of white and grey mold that brings to mind ashed rind goat cheese — there is no barnyard, no bretty aroma which dominates Clape wines. They are bright and clean, yet savage and meaty. They are the very definition of Cornas.

The Clape bottle archive.
The Clape bottle archive.

I had the pleasure of visiting Olivier Clape last month to taste 2013 and 2014 barrel samples. For individual tasting notes of the barrel samples, divided by vineyard, click here for a comparative chart. (Click to Read more)