Sunday, November 30, 2008

Great Wine Quote

"The debate is not about whether the numbers are right but whether it is right to have numbers. Everyone agrees that Parker is, on his own terms, a completely honest scorer; but by scoring he intends to serve the consumer, and makes the wine drinker into one. What consumers want is reliable beverage products, and, once wine is a reliable beverage product, it isn't quite wine."

Demanding absolute excellence on an unchanging universal numerical scale is not, after all, our usual measure of sensual engagement. A man who makes love to fifty-some women and then publishes a list in which each one gets a numerical grade would not be called a lady's man. He would be called a cad. And that, more or less, is how a good many Frenchmen think of Parker: they don't doubt his credentials; they question his character. A real man likes moles and frailties; a real man marries his wine, as he marries his wife, and sees her through the thin spots. Being impatient with the tannins in a Margaux is like being impatient with the lines on your wife's face. They are what makes it a marriage rather than a paid assignation."

From THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY by ADAM GOPNIK in The New Yorker Issue Sept. 6, 2004. Review of the book "Noble Rot", by William Echikson.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Michel Rolland

Michel Rolland tries to find Terroir in his glass

Michel Rolland is the most controversial figure in all of the wine world. Many people want him horse whipped and jailed, while others see him as an answer to all their problems and pay him very well for his advice. What can you make of a winemaker from Bordeaux who says things like "I can make great wine anywhere", a man who has abandoned, nay forsaken the artisanal process? Yet his wines are loved the world over, by critics and consumers alike.

The tenets of his winemaking philosophy fly in the face of conventional wisdom. To Rolland, place is irrelevant and the approach to wine making, whether it be Pomerol or Mendoza is always the same, ripeness, extraction and micro-oxygenation. In Rolland's defense, he is making some of the most lush, approachable wines in the world. And what others might refer to as a hegemony of aesthetics, others see as a democraticization of wine. The only problem is that his very successful approach, with the high Parker scores, and hundreds of millions of dollars that follow, supplant the indigenous, historical winemaking wherever he goes. When you are talking about Bordeaux, you are either discussing one of the pillars of world culture, or simply another product to bring to market. Where you fall in that debate makes Rolland's ubiquitousness, consulting for over 100 wineries, either a panacea or a plague.

I think that probably Rolland should be horsewhipped, but not jailed. Instead he should merely be exiled to Argentina where he can make wine in peace without interference from things like tradition and historical typicity and character. In Argentina he is a man free from the shackles of his ancestry and he can swim like an otter in a sea of possibility. In Argentina the arid climate and constant sun allow the Bordeaux varietals to flourish, reaching proportions formerly unknown. In Argentina vineyards can achieve levels of ripeness impossible in Bordeaux. Rolland's approach of maximum extraction expresses the fruit as Bordeaux never could. His method of mirco-oxygenation, whereby oxygen is injected into the wine during fermentation through a porous ceramic block, creates a wine of opulence and roundness of texture well suited to the Bordeaux varietals planted in Argentina. The question is, as Rolland smoothes out all the rough surfaces, as he burnishes and hews the wine in the cellar, does he simultaneously strip away character ? Is all sense of place lost ? And does it matter ? Lets take a look at two of his wines, and see if we can figure this out.

Clos de Los Siete 2006 $20 . A blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Rolland takes the finished wine from seven vineyards and creates this cuvee. From the back label "A new star is born: with seven points and symbolising ambition and conviction". I, for one didn't need the back label for that, I could see the ambition on the front label, and taste it in the glass. The wine is big, but not massive, new oak is present and it's obvious he is a practiced hand. He has made barrique his servant, not his master. The wine is more complicated than I expected but that may simply be from the inherent advantage of blending varietals. But no stones, no soil. None of the vast tracks of alluvial washes are represented here. Argentina itself is absent in this glass.

Cuvelier Los Andes 2005 $24 One of the seven wineries contributing wine to Clos de Los Siete. The Cuvelier family, who own the vineyard, are also the proprietors of both Chateau Leoville-Poyferre and Chateau Le Crock. Rolland consults for them in the production of this wine. Many French wine families such as the Rothschilds and the Marnier-Lapostolles have established wineries in Argentina and Chile over the past few decades. Many of them have set out to make Bordeaux, and others have set out to use Bordeaux varietals, including Carmenere, to find the voice of Argentina's vineyards. Don Melchor being the best example of the former and Clos Apalta the best example of the latter.

Rolland has done neither. The wine has a tremendous volume of flavor, and a powerful fruit expression. Tannins are firm, but well tamed, providing the basis for opulent fruit of great depth. Massive wine, very fat, much heavier on the new oak, and the perceptible unctuousness of glycerin. The wine is largely Malbec, that Bordeaux varietal well suited to Argentina, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot in supporting roles. But the Malbec, instead of expressing itself as definitively Argentine, is confused by Syrah. Do we really need Syrah here?

The wine is certainly a crowd pleaser, and it tastes great as far as that goes. Actually drinking it is a bit fatiguing, and it is hard to imagine the food that pairs with this wine. The Famous beef of Argentina? Maybe, but the food would be better served by higher acidity and some earthiness, some gaminess to balance all that high toned fruit. Again, terroir is wholly absent, there is no particular sense of place. In it's stead is the very obvious hand of Rolland, for whom winemaking is a top down relationship between himself and the land. The wine rises not from the vineyard but from the mind of the winemaker, and the demands of the market.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Fuck This Shit

I got a text message from one of my favorite sales people today. He is one of my favorite for the simple reason that his wines are better than most, by far. He was just in the store tasting me on wine last week and they were the best wines I have seen in months. But today instead of just sending me a note telling me of exciting arrivals or better yet his personal favorites, wines he's know for years, estates he's visited again and again, he sent be a brief synopsis of The Wine Advocate's review for one of his Barolos.

Et Tu Michael? This was made all the more unpleasant by the fact that it was my day off and I was in a dark room meditating on the Buddha, as I do every Monday. My prompt reply was that perhaps he should fuck Robert Parker,"and I don't mean that gentle boy-love of two Cubscouts on their first camping trip, but the punishing sex of a prison shower."

He replied that perhaps I was bitter, and that may be, but I've never been called an asshole, not in New York. So I went about my day. When I got home I started to make a stir fry of broccolini, red pepper and shrimp with little thai peppers that I grow right here in the Brickhouse. I have a beautiful bottle of Breton Bourgeuil, but that's not quite right for this particular application. So I dug around in the 'fridge and pulled out a free sample that was given to me in the spirit of kindness and commerce. In that spirit I'm not going to reveal it's name because, Jesus what's the point, swing a dead cat, hit a bottle of shitty wine or some other glorified piece of mediocrity in this world. My point, hopefully is more profound.

That point is this, as I drink this wine I realize that I could write a perfectly relevant, seemingly critical review that nonetheless avoided the fact that the wine just tastes bad.

To Wit;

"This inexpensive little wine delivers Sauvignon Blanc character clearly rooted in the New Zealand style. Pronounced herbaceousnecss up front, rests on dramatic tropical fruit and vibrant acidity. Best with seafood, especially shellfish."-Jim Morrison

Here's another review I found on line of the same wine.

"A refreshing, crisp white that has very good Sauvignon Blanc character. Solid fruit flavours (green apple, citrus and a hint of tropical) with good acidity make it a versatile white for grilled fish and seafood. "

And Finally Parker's whore

"Its not often that we get so excited over a $10 white wine, but this stuff is so good for so little, we really love it. All the flavor and complexity that you would want (gooseberry, minerals, grapefruit, sour apple tang) in a $17+ Sauvignon Blanc for a lot less. A wonderful aperitif, or perfect seafood and salads.

Wine Advocate No notes. Score: 85. —Jay Miller, June 2007. "

Once more, this time with feeling,

This is definitely Sauvignon Blanc, or more accurately someone's idea of Sauvignon Blanc. It has all the elements of Sauvignon Blanc, but those elements are poorly integrated, they rattle around inside the wine like a bunch of doorknobs in a pillowcase. Reminds me of a dinner salad from the 1970's, big hunks of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes that seem to have nothing to do with each other, you technically have a salad, so there is no point arguing with the waiter.

This is a wine of plausible deniability, there is nothing you can point to and complain about, grapefruit, grass, a little tropical fruit, it must be Sauvignon Blanc, and only $10 what a deal. Except it vaguely reminds me of windshield wiper fluid, a combination of soap and a solvent that won't freeze. Has it come to this? Do we continue to embrace the poor shadow of greatness just so that everyone can buy it for $10 ?

Jay Miller are you really "excited"? Do you really "really love it"? Seriously? Just be honest with me. Presumably you've had Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, with that in mind, still excited? Or is it just really great to have another value oriented, volumetric brand, complete with adorable icon, in the portfolio of one of the biggest fine wine importers?

Fuck you for helping to ruin something I love, fuck you for diminishing the world by degrees, for lowering everyone's expectations, for turning the world of wine into a room full of slack-jawed fools blathering over the considered attributes of wines with Doggies, and Horses, and Birds and Bicycles on the labels, wines from fucking nowhere.
-Jim Morrison November 2008

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