Sunday, July 27, 2008

One of these two men is a psychopath

I just watched Mondovino, I laughed, I cried, I made death threats. The interviews with Robert Parker... This! This is the man we are all listening to? I mean look at that haircut, holy shit. And then they cut away to the old picture of him with more hair and it's worse! Jesus Christ, dude go to a salon, they're called hair products. Parker's proclaimed preference for young wine (even first growths?) is not surprising given his love of Californian wine, I just can't believe that he admits to it on camera, such is his arrogance. He says he loves the vibrancy, he says, "The older I get, the younger I like them," with a wink and a nod, and certain sexual implications, but I don't think he would know good wine or pussy if he saw it. Could it be that maybe his palate, that million dollar palate is just dying?

To say you like the vibrancy of a young Staglin over the fractal complexity of an old Bordeaux, or Chateauneuf or Burgundy is like saying Led Zeppelin is better than Mozart, it's more vibrant. Thing is I don't think Parker ever discovered Mozart. And I don't think his mind or palate can really grasp the nuances of an old, terroir driven wine. I think he will always take flash and beauty over truth and culture. That just makes him a fool. What makes him dangerous is that so many people follow suit and believe that a bottle of Screaming Eagle is the pinnacle of the wine world. Equally tragic is his insistence on seeing himself as an agent of the "democratization" of wine. Yet the fruits of his labor, the globalization of wine and the hegemony of aesthetic , have only served to strengthen the position of wealthy wine aristocracy like the Frescobalis and the Rothschilds.

And James Suckling (has ever a man had a more appropriate last name), what can I say, another self-absorbed, self-centered, self-congratulatory baby boomer. The idea that there is anything cultural or historic in the world that he is not aware of is absurd to him. He is just another post war T.V. baby (I wonder if he watched Daniel Boon and had a coon skin cap?) , largely ill-equipped to understand the scope of what he writes about . For Suckling, culture is a flower whose beauty is only manifest upon his perception of it. If this were a Greek tragedy we would simply have to wait for an angry god to strike them dead for their hubris. Unfortunately, this isn't Euripides, this is the fucking wine business.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Nutmeg Article

I want a wine to taste like it came from some place, and was made by somebody. This is the flippant American equivalent of the French concept of "terroir", the idea that wine, more than a product, is a representation of a place and it's culture. Properly made, we should be able to taste the grapes of the vine, taste through them into the soil below, and sense the hand of the winemaker deftly coaxing out their subtle expression.

Unfortunately, most of the big brands of wine that people are familiar with are simply that -- brands. They are wineries in name only, with little or no land behind them. They sell a beverage based on grape juice like Coke and Pepsi sell a beverage based on corn syrup, the flavor of which is decided upon not by tradition and terroir, but by a marketing department with multiple target focus groups. This mass-market approach to wine is the same process that gave us the TV sit-coms of the 1980's and the "Cool Ranch Dorito". Hardly what you'd call an artisanal process.

So, what does that mean? It means, if you are drinking Yellow Tail, Sutter Home, Robert Mondavi Private Selections, Beringer, or Blackstone, for God's sakes stop. There's just no truth to those products -- there's no honesty, no identity, no authenticity. If you miss out on that authenticity, on a wine's ability to describe a time and place, to unfold in front of you with infinite complexity, haunting you with ephemeral glimpses of beauty, then you miss out on wine itself and you should just drink whiskey.

The only thing those wineries do well is marketing, creating an imaginary "package store pastoral" -- the image of a wizened old man tending bucolic vineyards -- vineyards that in many cases just don't exist. Sure, Robert Mondavi was a real man, but he didn't own the land to produce the 1.9 million cases sold last year labeled with his name. Beringer last year produced 8.63 million cases of wine. Imagine the industrial nature of that production.

Your alternative is authentic wine, produced by farming and traditional artisanal winemaking methods -- but you are going to have to buy wine from places where they don't speak English. I recently visited one such winery in Cafayte, Argentina: Michel Torino.

To get there you drive for three hours through the bad lands of Salta. Mile after mile of what looks like the Grand Canyon brings you to the vineyards of Michel Torino, the highest vineyards in the world. As you stand between the vines eating grapes, you are surrounded by the Andes, and flocks of parrots fly low through the vineyards. As I watched the local farm hands tend the vines I realized that I was among the Inca. Where their people before them had farmed blue potatoes, they grew the purple grapes of Malbec, the black grapes of Tannat, and the Alabaster grapes of Torrontes.

This is high desert, 6000 ft above sea level, and very little rain falls here. The constant sun, dry soil and the cool breezes of the mountains create the ideal micro-climate for Torrontes. It's as if Torrontes is the blonde, handsome daughter of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is a bouquet of lilies and orange flower blossoms above a spicy core of nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. One then expects the wine to be ripe and unctuous, without sufficient structure. But as the sun ripens in Cafayate, so does the mountain breeze cool the grapes, and the wine maintains it's acidity and it's focus.

The nose, so round and lush, tapers into a broad, firm wine on the palate, and finishes with a crisp, linear acidity. This contrast of seemingly contradictory elements is the wine's greatness and the wine maker's genius. How can it smells so luscious, such a riot of fruit and spice, yet be so proportional, so balanced and well integrated on the palate? That is wine, the result of a vineyard, its farmers and a winemaker.

As with all good wine, Torrontes co-evolved with the food of the region. It's no surprise that Torrontes was perfect with goat empanadas under a desert sun at lunch -- what was surprising was that it worked equally well with the prosciutto and strawberries at breakfast. It's crispness has since proven ideal for shrimp, scallops and lobster, while its fruit and floral notes give it body enough to pair with Thai, Indian and Schezuan food.

As I stood over a barrel with the wine maker tasting his cloudy nascent wine, his face imploring me to like it, I remember thinking how invested he was in his wine, how connected he was to what he produced. The wine and it's creator had a face, a place, and a home -- not simply an image and a website. Drink Good Wine.

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