Soul Wine   •   Comments »

There are so many factors to know and consider and learn about in wine these days. The variety, the vintage, the vineyard, the plot within the vineyard, the producer, the application or absence of oak and the type if used, the consultant, the enologist, the rootstock, the clonal or masal selection of the vine, the type of trellising, the level of nature worship practiced by the vineyard manager or winemaker, the phase of the moon on which the grapes were picked, whether or not the wine was filtered, fined, racked, stirred, pumped over or read to, the type of cigarette smoked by the man or woman picking the grapes, whether or not they made love the morning of harvest, etc. It seems that we (those whose lives happen to revolve around this alcoholic grape juice) have become so obsessed with the details of wine that we might often times end up missing the vineyard for the vines, so to speak. And I will be the first to admit guilt. I taste and analyze and judge dozens of wines each month - and I can count the number of bottles I have sat down with and really, truly got to know in the last month on one hand. O.K., two hands and one foot, but still, the ratio is poor.

We do a disservice to both the wine and the people making it when we treat wine as simply a collection of statistics. One of my importers told me a story about a newly successful winemaker. This winemaker was the new darling of all the critics. His wines suddenly sold out and were all allocated and impossible to get. His financial future was assured. It would seem that he had arrived, that he was successful. So when this importer arrived at the domaine in France he was surprised to find the winemaker sullen and testy. "What is the matter?" asked the importer. "Your wines are a huge success! Everyone wants to buy them! I can't keep them in stock." "Yes," he said. "Everyone now wants to taste my wine - taste it and spit it into buckets. This breaks my heart. I make wine to drink, not to spit into buckets."

I think it would behoove all of us to turn our brains off once in a while and tune in with our souls. Stop looking for the airbrushed model of perfection. Stop considering every flaw to be fatal. Start appreciating wine for the simple pleasure it can bring. Begin to taste with your being - how does the wine make you feel? Is it pleasurable? And God forbid we worry about whether the person who is supposed to know more than us about wine likes it or not. Wine is sensual, wine is art, wine is food. Wine is expression - of the vineyard, of the year, of the winemaker. Judge less, drink more.

One of the wines that I have had fun with recently is the 2007 St. Magdalener from Georg Mumelter at Griesbauerhof in the Alto Adige. A lot of words, I know. It is made up mostly of Schiava with a little Lagrein added in. It is light and fresh. It has just the right balance of fruit, earth, herbs, acid and tannin. It is the kind of wine you could never imagine lying to you. It is a joy to drink and goes with all sorts of food. It was spot on for black cod with lentils and chicories at our Complete the Circle Lunch at Nopa. Oliver McCrum, the man responsible for bringing it into the United States, calls it the Beaujolais of Italy. We sell it for $31. So far it has been mostly consumed by wine people, which makes me happy.

And then there is Beaujolais proper. Gamay is one of my favorite under-appreciated grape varieties. It may not be capable of the depth, complexity and flash of the noble Pinot Noir, but it is also far less guilty of soullessness. Rarely do the winemakers in Beaujolais try and force Gamay to be something that it is not. And while they sometimes err on the side of playfulness and fruitiness, with carbonic maceration for example, I find this less offensive than erring on the side of false nobility, wrapping the wine in furs and adorning it with diamonds and gold by using too much new oak and over-extracting or picking too ripe and watering back. Choose any well-regarded producer and try the entry level villages wine and also one of the cru wines. Paul Janin or Domaine du Vissoux for example. Nothing that these two producers make is expensive and everything I have ever tasted from either of them has been delicious and fun to drink.

And finally there is the 2004 Primofiore from Giuseppe Quintarelli in the Veneto. This wine is fantastic. It is complex and deep and full bodied in flavor yet light in texture. It seems to affect your mouth and soul in dozens of ways yet never really treads upon it. It passes over like a ghost and leaves you with lingering memories and flavors. This wine will cost you a little more, but Quintarelli seems to be able to pack twice as much flavor and fun into each bottle, so it truly is worth every penny.

Posted February 23, 2009 • Filed under Wine,

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