Zidarich for a chilly day


This post takes us to Slovenia, by way of Greenwich Village.

A winter weekend lunch in a now chilled Manhattan, wind finding its icicle way up cuffs and sleeves, and a revolving door pushed around to a warm interior. Warm walls, warm colors. Reds, oranges. The smell of garlic and flatbread.

What to order from a list so long, in such tiny print it makes one think of miniatures and meticulous manuscripts? Italy sprawled out, not only geographically, but in the hills and gullies of winemaking styles. A Super-Tuscan? A carbonic natural wine? Something aged in anfora? A spit-clean Brunello? Something luscious from Paolo Bea? Well, not with the bottarga, please.

Sitting on the left side of the page was a small series of words that drew my eye: three or four in a row, lines ending in "Vitovska."

Having spent most of my wine-drinking life within the pleasantly diverse confines of the Gallic hexagon, I still get a thrill from forays into the beyond. Oh! A Ridge Zinfandel! A Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner! Dry furmint from Hungary!

Vitovska is still a grape that looks like a vista I will not know. A sea of crisp, floral newness.

So a bottle of 2007 Zidarich Prulke was ordered. It's not actually a vitovska, just most of it. (It's got malvasia and sauvignon blanc in the mix.)

The wine was poured and, though still on its first breath of air and a bit of a refrigerated chill, it showed the skin-contact tannins and spicy appeal of its style. It was taut in the glass, with a lighter color than I had expected, a kind of orange iridescence.

Over the next hour, it went places. Places I wanted to go along with it. It opened into something of increasing textural complexity, with spicy and floral playing together in an offhanded and compelling way. The wine was also exceptionally pure.

Pure is not usually a qualifier that comes to mind when describing the so-called "orange" (skin-contact white) wines. More often, such as Movia's Lunar or Radikon's Jakot, they're a bit cloudy, and their appeal stems from their bold contradictions and intemperately prepossessed oddity rather than from any sense of fineness, chisel or purity.

Yet here it was in my glass, a chiseled thing. A chiseled orange thing.

Talking wine


Often times, as wine fiends, we think we know our tastes, supremely confident in the knowns and unknowns to us, the preferred and the shunned or slighted. Some good friends of mine (more in America, as France doesn't have the informatique infrastructure) make their wine purchases online and have the wines sent to their home, bypassing any physical act of wine store purchase.

To my senses, they're missing out on something crucial: shooting the breeze with smart, like-minded folk.

There is nothing to compare to stumbling into Caves Augé or Chambers Street Wines and seeing familiar faces and talking about the latest tastes. If travel expands your world, I think that talking to other people who are passionate about wine expands your palate, pushes you to new fields (regions, grapes).

Of course, there can be flubs. Poor pairings, let's call them. Or a careless caviste. I'm never going to like that Riesling, mea maxima culpa. And I'm certainly not interested in paying thrice as much as my enjoyment for something I don't quite enjoy.

But when I think back over the past months of my wine experiences, I get a little smile on my face when I see Chris Barnes at Chambers Street bringing over a Valdespino Inocente sherry. (Salty sharp zap to my brain!) Or Tim Mortimer offhandedly mentioning Lioco Indica at Discovery Wines in the East Village. (Oh, how pretty that is.) Or Max Delorieux giving the down-low on black wax Overnoy at Augé in Paris. Or Josh Adler at Spring Boutique pulling a cork on a Burgundy I have never tried.

This is our tribe, after all. Tempting as a thousand, thousand candy stores, the smart friends of the bottle wait for us to push the door open and embark upon new landscapes.

It's a playground sprawling throughout the city, throughout the world.

The Wine Importer, Joe Dressner


Joe Dressner has left us. I choose that expression carefully. In concrete reality, he passed away from brain cancer on Saturday morning. Also, though, he has left us, well, so much.

He was an impassioned importer of "real" wines from France, Italy, and Spain. A champion of candor who tirelessly cut away the bla-bla of marketing and aspirational thinking and swindlerism. A friend of honest work in vineyards and cellars. An unabashed curmudgeon of unpredictable views and angles. A man who gave to Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health. One of the funniest people ever, who left us with a body of writing in which kernels of truth hide amid uproarious floods of the absurd.

He was also a friend, to me. We shared wine, and didn't talk about it. We could argue or gossip in that particular brand of French that was his own. His real frankness and humanity allowed for conversations to swing from the acerbic to the intimate.

The wines he imported to America and which his team will continue to bring us are a good reflection of him: Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon is preposterously good, almost blindsiding you; Domaine de la Pépière Clos des Briords is limpid, earthy, frank; Eric Texier's Rhône wines are deeply intellectual; Christian Chaussard's are hilarious, until you notice the firm backbone of seriousness.

The wines speak Joe Dressner, as do the writings and memories of him we have.

Catching wine


I just read an amusing article about a drunk elk that got caught in a tree in Sweden. Apparently, it was running after fermenting apples. Fortunately, I have never so much as gotten my foot caught in a sewer grate running after bottles of wine in the city.

However, several recent events have reminded me that when you catch the wine after running around town after it, you might not want to lose it again. Let me explain what I mean by that. It's that my mind has once again been jostled into the recognition that writing down the wines you taste is a good idea, along with maybe a word or two about them. (One hates to be stuck thinking: Was that blaterle* a white or a red?)

Exhibit A: "Any recollection of what we had on Aug 7th and Aug 9th?" writes S, a couple of days ago. Oh yeah, those two great dinners with friends and stupendously good food and lots of bottles. My brain now saw the evenings, though, like a scattered puzzle—of which many pieces had skittered under the radiator or behind the sofa. I remembered a Coche-Dury and offered, "I think it was a 2002, but which?" To which I was, humblingly, told: "Right, the Volnay." Ah, right. Coche-Dury red. Now I remembered, though my slipshod recall had been casting about for various Meursault Rougeots or the like.

Exhibit B: I went to a lunch just a few days ago—vibrant food and company, and a set of wines I had never seen nor tasted before, a sneak preview of imports soon to hit these shores. Talking about that meal with another friend who had not been there, I was asked, "What were the wines?" One might hang one's head to admit it, but for almost all of them, I had to go look at the pictures one of the lunchmates had taken and posted on a social networking site. For shame!

"Remember," said my friend, sitting there in scentless sensibility, "it's not unimportant to write down what you taste. There are reasons we do this."

So I will. And here, too.


*Don't worry, dear reader, I am certain that you know which color wines the blaterle grape makes.


Photo by Melody Dye

Rats


When I was a teenager, I liked to talk with my uncle about his early days training as a clinical psychologist. We would talk about the different approaches and schools. The fact that the mind had so many ways of coming at it fascinated me, and I read around, ranging and rooting for ideas. One day, we started talking about behaviorism and B. F. Skinner.

My uncle said, "He was a failed writer. He wanted to be a novelist, you know. But he had nothing to say. So he went back to the lab with his rats. Much more comfortable with the rats."

My uncle was teasing me, because he knew my perfectionism, my striving, sitting on the stairs with my composition notebook and my fountain pen. But attempts at perfection in writing do not create diamonds; they create a blank.

So, here I am before a blank blog page, and I ask myself: do I need rats, or can I grow words out of wine?

I put a picture of Causse Marines' Gaillac above, because I have always found it amusing and inexplicable that they should boldly state that no badgers are allowed in, on, or around the wine. I think I should use this as an allegory and impetus to avoid creeping beasts and get on with it.

Earth and wine in Champagne


Champagne is not dead!*

It is fairly telling that a tasting organized by a group of like-minded young Champagne growers and held on a sunny spring day in the town of Aÿ would drape itself in this rebellious slogan:

WINEGROWERS CONTINUE TO REVOLT IN THE NAME OF CHAMPAGNE'S TERROIRS!

One day, eighteen growers, pouring vins clairs and finished wines. Coming from all corners of the region, from Merfy, north-west of Reims, all the way down to Les Riceys, some 200km south, and all the way west to Crouttes-sur-Marne, almost abutting the Paris region: these were the vignerons of Terres et Vins de Champagne. If their vineyards were relatively far-flung, a shared spirit of revolt united them, however.

Revolt. The word is important. It snaps off the tongue; it is a banner and a flag of pride for the group: a front united by friendship. Ask anyone, even wine geeks ...

Earth and wine in Champagne


Champagne is not dead!*

It is fairly telling that a tasting organized by a group of like-minded young Champagne growers and held on a sunny spring day in the town of Aÿ would drape itself in this rebellious slogan:

WINEGROWERS CONTINUE TO REVOLT IN THE NAME OF CHAMPAGNE'S TERROIRS!

One day, eighteen growers, pouring vins clairs and finished wines. Coming from all corners of the region, from Merfy, north-west of Reims, all the way down to Les Riceys, some 200km south, and all the way west to Crouttes-sur-Marne, almost abutting the Paris region: these were the vignerons of Terres et Vins de Champagne. If their vineyards were relatively far-flung, a shared spirit of revolt united them, however.

Revolt. The word is important. It snaps off the tongue; it is a banner and a flag of pride for the group: a front united by friendship. Ask anyone, even wine geeks who like champagne, and you're likely to hear that it is the most "artificial" of wines; that it bespeaks its terroir the least; that it is a marketing entity; that the landscapes of the region are dead.

To a large extent, commercialism and the lucre-seeking tactics of some big négociants have made this true.

But Champagne is budding. This new guard of growers—and what is equally exciting is that I can think of many others who are doing similar things in a similar spirit—believes in place. Believes in both tradition and the earth.

I was struck when Aurélien Laherte told me that his cuvée Les Clos, which is a field blend of all of the 7 authorized grape varieties in Champagne (chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, arbanne, petit meslier, pinot blanc and fromenteau) was not a wine that had been calculated with such and such a percentage of each to create a technical marvel. It was done as a "kind of archival act," he said, of conserving roots in the past, keeping alive those little berries that had their use (petit meslier keeping up the acidity in a warm year when the pinot meunier might get too flabby). "Who knows, if we have another vintage like 2003"—the heat-wave year—"we might be saved by petit meslier."

Some of the growers have ungrafted vines, like Chartogne-Taillet's Les Barres and Tarlant's Vigne d'Antan, both distinctive, and deep. Some forgo sulfur, such as Benoît Lahaye in his excellent cuvée Villaine. Many opt for low or no dosage, which ripeness allows for. We are worlds away from technical laboratories and vast quantities of wan juice tricked up with sugar and a little bit of old wine so that they taste the same from year to year.

These growers are aware of the land, the soils, the climate, and what their practices are doing. Pascal Doquet has been converting his vineyards to organic farming over the past decade, and he said with startlement that very quickly, the roots of the vines went from being spread out almost horizontally very shallowly beneath the soil to plunging downward—here, with the gesture of a hand, he showed the roots no longer rebuffed by the tight, unbreathable soil in which everything had been killed by pesticides.

But of course, the cool thing is that this is not just talk. Tasting the vins clairs showed the stuffing of what would be elaborated into finished champagnes. And those champagnes. They are so good. This is why we care.

At the end of the day, all I had in front of me was a comfortable train ride from Epernay back to Paris. How could I not beg a glass of Pascal Doquet Vertus here, or René Geoffroy Pureté or Bérèche Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche there?

I did so. I drank them down, and every drop was real good.



*By the bye, this lovely picture of vines in Vertus was taken by Pascal Doquet.