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Friday, February 22, 2013


Several years back, when I first started college, I was required to attend a poetry reading.  I thought to myself, this is going to be interesting - I enjoy poetry very much, but this wasn’t a reading of the poets with whose work I was already familiar.  No, this was an independent group of locals who fancied themselves poets.

There were a few charlatans reading their work and I wondered how they ever found the courage within themselves to read this nonsense in public.  And then there were a few whose work stuck with me - obviously it stuck with me, as none of it is published as far as I know of, and yet four particular poems have stayed in my mind since the poetry reading in early 2002.  One was some snarky version of haiku that was quite clever.  One was sort of a “wordsmith” approach to poetry, with a political twist.  One was written and recited by a mother who thought she lost her son on 9/11, only to learn that he survived the attack (and the incident was still quite fresh in the minds and hearts of us New Yorkers).  And the one that left me with a smile was by a lady whose poem I believe was called, “The Man Who Loved Plants.”

Why did “The Man Who Loved Plants” stand out to me?  I’m not really sure, except that it just seemed like such an interesting thought pattern in the poem at the time.  The lady recounted her days in school as a young woman, and a professor who had his room full of his beloved plants.  She described his passion for the plants and how he regarded them and treated them.  And all of this was while he graded her term paper in front of her.  And her question to herself was, “could he fondle a woman as well as a plant?”

Certainly, a passion can be taken to extremes, even as far as an obsession.  I don’t think of obsessions as a particularly healthy thing.  But passion?  Sometimes I wonder how anyone gets by in life without some kind of passion.

For me, passion is a true love for something and a sort of devotion to it - learning about it, embracing it, taking pleasure in it.  And I think of it differently than one person’s relationship with another.  Instead, I think of this kind of passion as one person’s relationship with whatever the subject matter may be.

I have an admiration for those in the wine industry who display that passion for wine.  I believe it’s that passion that allows the person to connect with the wines and appreciate them for what they are, and clearly it takes the person’s relationship with wine to a level far greater than than the flavor and simply drinking it and digesting it.  This passion required knowledge and dedication and an open mind and heart.

I remember my first real experience with wine professionals.  There were a few present and I took particular notice of one of them.  How he approached the wine as he explained a great deal about tasting, expression, etc., was unlike anyone I’d ever seen - the glass in his hand and how he held the white cloth behind it, how he swirled the wine in the glass, and how he bridged the gap for our class between the wine and its many complexities yet to be understood - he had a different understanding and clearly a different passion for wine than anything I’d ever seen before.  I’m guessing this is what’s gotten him to a point of great respect in the wine industry as a sommelier, educator, etc., and each time I’ve heard him present wine since that day, I’ve connected quite well with the wines he’s shown, and while I did learn a great deal from his lecturing and analyses of the wines, their grapes, regions, and styles, I also felt more relaxed even with difficult concepts and relatively unknown grapes and regions - and arriving at this comfort level, I felt again and again that he was helping bridge the gap between the wine and the complexities, making it easier to understand and enjoy.

This is the kind of passion and dedication that I admire.

Friday, February 15, 2013

When I’m not Being a Wine Rebel...

I’ve realized an interesting thing recently - I used to run to my blog to write all about a new offbeat wine I had tried.  I’ve been wondering why I do that less these days.  I find it’s because quite often it’s offbeat wines I’ve been drinking - Vranac, Negroamaro, Tannat, Mencia, etc.  I’m unlikely to stop going for the offbeat wines anytime soon, so perhaps I ought to take even more note when I go for a traditional style wine.

So what are my traditional style favorites?  Well, I’ve already written extensively about why I have a special place in my heart for Nebbiolo and how it translates to a similar feeling I have toward people and how we find our identities as we age.  Malbec I love because it’s delicious when well executed.  Super Tuscans are exquisite when not “overdone.”  So where does my traditional preference really lie?


And who wouldn’t love a great Bordeaux?  They’re majestic, delicious, and all-around wonderful.  And currently, my favorites seem to be coming from Margaux.  I’ve seen the question posed numerous times online: “If you could only drink wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Rhone for the rest of your life, which would you choose?”  Well, Burgundies are so easy on the palate and remarkably food friendly.  Rhones seem to be the most cost efficient and in my opinion among the most exciting and honest.  But Bordeaux - for me, nothing beats Bordeaux.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot blends, sometimes with a touch of Malbec, Carmenere, or Petit Verdot - what can be better?

I do realize everyone’s palate is different, but I’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t love a great Bordeaux.  And while they tend to be quite expensive, I think most of us would agree it’s hard to pass up on a great one, especially with some special vintages being released.

So at a special occasion, other than popping a good Champagne, what is it I choose to celebrate with?  It’s Bordeaux.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wine Rebel? That’s Ok.

I like to step back and look at my wine racks sometimes - partly to take inventory, and partly to see what I’ve been leaning toward lately.

On one side, I have almost exclusively traditional and big wines - Burgundies, Bordeaux, Rhone, Loire, Alsace, Provence, Piemonte, Tuscany, Mendoza, and Napa, made with grapes we hear about all the time.  The bottles are dusty and content to sit there for as long as needed.

The other side is a bit more exciting - wines from lesser known grapes from Sud-Ouest (of course), Languedoc, Puglia, Sicily, Bierzo, Rias Baixas, Douro, Niederosterreich, Hungary, Switzerland, Uruguay, Canada - these are the bottles that turn over quickly, they get consumed due to my excitement about the offbeat grapes and regions, and those spots are quickly filled in the wine racks once again, with more offbeat selections.  I’m constantly looking for things I’ve never tried, and if I’ve never heard of it, all the better.  (And when I get to put them in brown bags and make for interesting surprises - well, that’s just my favorite thing to do right now.)

But even more exciting to me, better than picking offbeat wines to try, is being surprised by something I wouldn’t ordinarily choose for myself - even if it’s something I usually avoid, and going into it without any idea what it is (such as being on the receiving end of a brown bag) - I tend to enjoy it more.

Everyone has a few regions or grapes that they’re a bit prejudiced against.  For me, it’s Gamay, and sometimes Cabernet Franc, depending on the style.  I’m also less than fond of some of the wines from southern France (such as some from Languedoc) that show too much licorice and black spice and excessive pepper.  But I’ve had a few surprises recently - a few Gamay based wines that I’ve really enjoyed, a Cabernet Franc or two that showed extremely well and I connected with, and some others.

And what’s even more interesting is what happens in my mind when I open (blind or not) a bottle that I expect to enjoy, and find that I don’t connect with it at all, or that it seems completely overrated to me.  Sometimes it’s disappointing, but it’s always a revelation, and what’s important is learning from the experience.

When I started falling in love with offbeat wines from lesser known regions, I thought my taste was strange, perhaps.  But I was realizing that my palate could be satisfied for a fraction of the cost of the wines other people were drinking, and after introducing some of these wines to others, I find that my taste isn’t so strange - it’s just that I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to some of these lesser known wines, and so I was able to determine whether I liked them or not.  And that’s what my wine racks are based on - my own taste and wines that I’d like to share with others, in the hopes that they enjoy them as well, even if very few people know what they are, or where they’re from.  So maybe I’m a bit of a wine rebel - so what?  What would be the point in simply going with the flow?  Boring, I say.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Vintage Conscious

One of my favorite movies, A New Leaf, has a scene that makes me laugh every time I see it - Henry asks Henrietta whether she agrees that 1955 was a better year than 1953 for Mouton Rothschild.  She replies, but doesn’t reference the Bordeaux.  Instead, she tells him about a drink she calls the Malaga Cooler, made from Mogen David extra heavy malaga wine with lime juice and soda, and she tells him that “every year is good.”

I once heard someone in the wine industry say that a wine is good when every year is good - and proceeded to advocate for non-vintage wines.  The reasoning?  The wine will be more dependable that way.

I could not disagree more.  Being vintage conscious is important, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would agree with me when I say that only certain years are good - for example, 2000 might be a great vintage for wines from one region, and terrible for those of another region.

This is why I love the wines that are not tampered with by their winemaker.  The wines are permitted to express themselves, their identity, and what was going on in the wine’s home when the grapes were grown.

Have you ever seen those birthday cards and booklets that are designed around a particular birth year?  That’s how I like to think of each vintage.  The time a person is born often shapes the person’s identity - the same goes for what happened in the grape’s environment the year the grapes were grown and the wine was made.  If there’s a bad vintage, it happens.  In all likelihood, grapes from a different region had a better growing season, so for the wine drinker, all is not lost - enjoy something different perhaps.  But don’t think that wines should be exactly the same every year - that’s ridiculous.  And it’s sort of like expecting someone born at one time to have the same traits and preferences as someone from a different time.  Let the wine be itself and appreciate it for what it is.