Articles in Winemaker
You’ve heard of Positano, of course; Amalfi and Ravello, too, no doubt. How about Furore? Maybe not. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Furore, Italy, is a just a little bit of a place, a random collection of houses, vineyards and lemon groves strung out across a series of near-vertical terraced slopes perched precariously above the shimmering Amalfi Coast.
Even residents describe it as “un paese che non c’è” — a village that’s not really a village. So why mention it? Because Furore is home to the Marisa Cuomo boutique winery, which, as Carla Capalbo observes in her vade mecum “Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania,” has become “synonymous with the rise in quality of — and interest in — the Costa d’Amalfi DOC wines.”
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Wine has been made for centuries up in this rugged hinterland of the Amalfi Coast, but it was of inferior quality, sold in bulk and never destined to stray far from its homeland. Marisa Cuomo and her husband, Andrea Ferraioli, both from local winegrowing families, recognized the potential of the terroir and also of the indigenous grape varieties planted here, some of them unique to the area. About 20 years ago they resolved to take the village’s winegrowing in a new direction. “They put Furore on the map,” confirms their daughter Dorotea Ferraioli, who is responsible for marketing and also for tours and tastings. “They wanted our little paese to be known worldwide.”
Why it works in Furore
Realizing that the only way to go was up, they decided to focus relentlessly on quality. They improved practices in the vineyard, invested steadily in the winery, carved a breathtaking cellar straight out of the rock face behind the house and hired an enologist to oversee winemaking. They began to bottle all their own wines and to age some of them in small oak barrels and proceeded to market them with flair to an eager public — Italians first, swiftly followed by an international audience thirsty for wines from the much-loved, much-visited Amalfi Coast.
Today the winery works with 20 hectares (50 acres) of vines, planted on vertiginous slopes all the way from Furore round to Vietri. The vineyards in and around Furore are wholly owned; the rest are worked by the winery in a cooperative arrangement.
You need to see the vineyards above Furore to understand the extreme challenges involved in working this terrain. The vines, almost all pre-phylloxera and ungrafted, are planted at the foot of the walls that prop up the steeply stacked terraces, at altitudes ranging from 100 to 750 meters (328 to 2,460 feet) above sea level. Their branches sprawl out horizontally along pergolas made from long, tapering poles, which are cut from the chestnut trees that proliferate high in the Monte Lattari way above the village.
Training the vines along pergolas in this way, explains Dorotea, is not just a picturesque regional tradition; it’s also the most convenient solution, perfectly suited to the rigors of the terrain while making the most of the limited space available. The branches provide a dense canopy of leaves beneath which the grapes dangle, protected from the relentless sun. On the ground below, zucchini, pumpkins and other vegetables flourish gratefully in the shade. Two crops are thus grown in one tiny, precious, precarious space.
The winery makes white, rosé and red wine from a whole bunch of little-known, indigenous vine varieties that are still part of Italy’s precious heritage. Top of the white range is the barrel-fermented Fiorduva (“flower of the grape”), a fragrant blend of Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli, three varieties unique to the Amalfi Coast. Furore Bianco, described by the sommelier at the Casa Angelina restaurant in nearby Praiano as “semplice ma non banale” (“simple but by no means ordinary”), comes from Falanghina and Biancolella grapes, both typical of Campania. Rosé and reds are made from Piedirosso (“red-foot”) and Aglianico in varying proportions.
Next time you’re on vacation in Positano or Amalfi, look out for Marisa Cuomo wines. They’re are widely available in restaurants, bars and shops along the coast. Best of all, find your way up the winding road to Furore and pay the winery a visit (from January to August only). Then look out for the wines when you get back home. (Wines are exported to the U.S., Canada, Japan and Switzerland). When you’ve tracked down a bottle of Fiorduva or Furore Rosso Riserva, uncork it, close your eyes, picture those dizzying slopes and sun-baked terraces, take a gentle sniff, breathe in the scents of the Amalfi Coast and remember the sheer back-breaking labor of love that has gone into the bottle.
Top photo: Grapes growing at the Marisa Cuomo winery in Furore, Italy. Credit: Cantine Marisa Cuomo
Gone are the days when Greek wine was synonymous with the pine resin-flavoured retsina. Today, Greece is in the process of developing its true potential. In the course of a whirlwind week in Greece with 19 other Masters of wine, we found an enormous amount to explore and discover.
Greece has over 500 indigenous grape varieties, so a day did not go past without meeting a new one. International varieties such as Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah have a much greater hold in the north of the country, whereas on the islands they only represent 5% of the production.
While most of the indigenous grapes will never gain international recognition, there are a few that are worth remembering, such as Moschofilero, with its lightly muscaty flavours, and Robola from Cephalonia, with delicate sappy flavours.
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We tasted some 390 wines from 92 estates, and Alpha Estate really stood out for its excellence and innovative work. In some ways, Alpha is very typical of something that is happening all over Greece, one man with a broader vision developing his own estate.
Angelos Iatrides bought his first vineyards in 1995. He had studied in Bordeaux and worked in Madiran, and then back in Greece he helped create Ampelooiniki, a highly successful research station and consultancy business.
But Angelos really wanted to do his own thing, and with two other partners, chose a region that he felt was ripe for regeneration. This was the appellation of Amyndeon, not too far from the city of Thessaloniki. The Vitsi and Voros mountains are close by, and Bulgaria is in the near distance. Amyndeon, which has had vineyards since 300 B.C., is quite a small appellation, with seven producers, of whom Boutari and the cooperative are the biggest. Altogether, Angelos has 65 hectares of vineyards, including four hectares of old bush vines, which were planted in 1921. The vineyards lie on a plateau, between 570 and 700 meters (1,870 to 2,296 feet) to in altitude and the soil is sandy with limestone bedrock. The summers are so dry that irrigation is essential in August.
Angelos presented his wines with fluency and perception. As the tasting demonstrated, his methods encapsulate the best of modern Greek wine making, representing a break with the traditional and, it has to be said, the pretty primitive methods of the past. Work in the vineyard is paramount to quality and in the cellar oak aging is vital to the quality of the wines and meticulous attention is paid to detail.
2009 Axia Red is 50% Syrah and 50% Xinomavro, so a blend of Greece and the international world, with 12 months aging in oak. The bordelais influence is inevitably strong in Angelos’ winemaking. Quite a smoky peppery nose, with rounded ripe fruit, balanced by both tannin and acidity. The Syrah was planted in 1995, an experimental vineyard in conjunction with the university of Suze la Rousse in the Rhone Valley. Angelos considers that it goes well with Xinomavro, and I couldn’t disagree.
2008 Xinomavro, PDO Amyndeon, from a single vineyard called Hedgehog
Medium colour. Hints of aniseed on the nose. Quite firm dry fruit with a touch of sweetness on the finish, demonstrating the suggestion that Xinomavro is a cross of flavours between Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. Medium weight. 2008 was a riper vintage than 2009.
2009 Xinomavro, PDO Amynteon single vineyard Hedgehog
Quite a deep young colour. A smoky, chocolaty nose, and again with a hint of aniseed. Some dry fruit, with the elegance of a fine Nebbiolo. Quite smoky with intriguing nuances and textured layers. A lovely glass of wine.
2006 Xinomavro Reserve Old Vines
From the vineyard planted in 1921. Deep colour, showing very little age. Quite ripe chocolate notes on the nose and a supple rounded, ripe palate, with a balancing tannic streak. Good depth of flavour and finely crafted. Angelos explained that there is no risk of phylloxera as the soil is predominantly sandy. He uses horizontal fermenters which avoid extracting phenolics from the grape pips, and he observed that canopy management is important for ripening the grapes, saying, “You can’t just assume that with a warm climate, the grapes will ripen automatically.”
2007 Xinomavro Reserve Old Vines
“Reserve” for Angelos usually implies two years aging in wood, but this was only given 12 months. It depends on the vintage. And he uses steamed rather than toasted barrels. The colour was beginning to evolve. Rounded nose with a hint of aniseed. An elegant palate with supple tannins and ripe perfumed fruit. A lovely balance and a long finish.
2008 Xinomavro Reserve Old Vines
Medium colour, but not showing any age. Quite a firm dry palate, with some fruit. Still very youthful, with a certain freshness and some acidity on the finish, as well as tannin.
2006 Alpha Estate Red Blend
60% Syrah, 20% Merlot and 20% Xinomavro. Deep young colour, not showing any signs of age. Quite a dense ripe chocolaty nose, and on the palate, ripe and rounded, with some dense fruit, youthful tannin and an edge of acidity. Syrah provides the structure; Xinomavro the power and the aromatic complexity, and Merlot rounds out the palate. Angelos has Syrah, “because I like it” and Merlot is the link between Syrah and Xinomavro.
2007 Alpha Estate Red Blend
Deep colour. Quite a rounded smoky nose, and on the palate rounded, dense and ripe with some firm tannins. Youthful with plenty of potential. Yields are pretty low, with 28-35 hl/ha for red grapes and 42-45 hl/ha for whites.
2008 Alpha Estate Red Blend
The same blend Syrah, Merlot and Xinomavro. Deep colour. A certain earthy smokiness; a slightly sweet palate, with an earthy note and some cassis and a tannic streak. Not as harmonious as the two previous vintages, but probably needs some bottle age. One third was aged in new barrels.
2009 Utopia 95% Tannat, 5% Xinomavro. PGI Florina
It was a surprise to find Tannat in northern Greece, but there is a very simple explanation. After studying in Bordeaux, Angelos spent a vintage with Alain Brumont, at Château Montus, the leading Madiran estate, where Tannat is at its most typical. Deep young colour. The nose and palate were firm and structured, with some black fruit. Very characteristic of the grape variety.
2006 Alpha One, PGI Florina
A pure Tannat. Angelos was evidently very impressed by his stay in Madiran. Very deep young colour. Smokey chocolaty nose. Quite youthful, dense and intense. Firm black fruit on the palate, with a tannic edge. Youthful with plenty of potential to develop.
And we finished our tasting with a couple of white wines:
2012 Sauvignon blanc
Angelos wrote his thesis on the aromatic profile of Sauvignon and has worked with Denis Dubordieu, one of the leading proponents of the grape variety in Bordeaux. This wine had some lovely varietal character, with pithy notes on the nose, and mineral fruit with some texture and weight on the palate.
2012 Axia, PGI Florina Malagouzia
Light colour; quite delicate nose, with rounded fruit, acidity and balance. Elegant with some texture, and some intriguing nuances. It was a lovely glass of wine to finish a tasting that really illustrated the enormous potential of Greece for both indigenous and international grape varieties and showed just what can be achieved with a combination of energy and talent.
Top photo: A small fortress on an islet in the city of Nafplio. Credit: Rosemary George
The Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California, is turning 30 this year, and there’s going to be a big party to celebrate. Although that seems like a major milestone, its grape-growing tradition is older than it seems.
Russian River gets its name from the colony of Russians who built Fort Ross. The river’s mouth is about 12 miles south of that, in the tiny beach town of Jenner. Although the valley was named an American Viticulture Area, or AVA, in 1983 (a designation first given to Augusta, Mo., in 1980), grapes for wine have been cultivated there since the 1840s, making it closer to 170 years old. It was in the early ’70s, though, that winemakers took note of the cool climate, plus the daily flooding of fog, and started planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
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Nowadays, the Russian River region is synonymous with Burgundian varietals. Trailblazers such as Joseph Swan, Dutton Goldfield and a handful of others are now sharing their region with some 120 other wineries.
It’s not only the wines that make the region so famous: The sheer beauty of the rugged, almost wild land is a draw as well. There’s even a redwood forest in the middle (redwoods love damp weather).
Grape to Glass is the annual celebration of this region and its wines, timed before the harvest of the year’s grape bounty. This year’s event is dubbed Back to Our Roots and will celebrate the founding members, many of whom will be in attendance.
It all starts at 4 p.m. Aug. 17 when 50 wineries will be pouring some of the region’s most sought-after wines. These will be paired with treats and amuse-bouches made by local eateries. Soon thereafter, you might want to stuff a napkin in the top of your shirt and prepare for a full-on barbecue. There’s going to be live music as well.
If you plan to attend, here are five wineries to checkout:
Joseph Swan is now run by Rod Berglund, Swan’s son-in-law (Swan passed away in 1989). Well known for its excellent Pinot Noir, the winery also makes a pretty impressive Zinfandel. Their vines are some of the oldest in the region.
Two Sheperds‘ owner-winemaker and ex-blogger, William Allen, is the black-sheep Rhône grape producer amongst the Burgundians. He makes some excellent red Grenache blends and a rightfully popular Grenache Blanc.
I haven’t yet tried Thomas George Estates, but the winery is receiving some very impressive accolades from loads of wine folk. It’s a relatively new winery that is making a lot of different Pinots, as well Viognier.
I’ve always been a fan of DeLoach Vineyards; they use a lot of biodynamic procedures in the vineyard and winery. In fact, I am quite sure they have chickens running around among the vines, eating bugs. They make a few different styles of wine, but it’s really all about the Pinot.
Williams Selyem is so famous now; it’s quite a treat to see their wines being poured at an event. Started in the late ’70s by Ed Selyem and Burt Williams, they sold it in the late ’90s after winning just about every wine award known to humanity. Although now made in a different style, by Bob Cabral, the wines are still as popular.
Tickets for Grape to Glass start at $85. For more information, go to the Grape to Glass website.
Top photo: Wine table at Grape to Glass festival. Credit: Derrick Story
Whenever I hear people say that a bottle of wine “tells a story” or shares some sort of “message,” it sounds to me like a pretentious cliché. It’s not like you pop the cork and out pours some rhapsodic treatise on the rolling hillsides of Tuscany. And yet, after all that sipping and swirling, what I ultimately hope to find in wine is something more than just “a medium-bodied effort with subtle notes of blackberry and leather.” Of course, how a wine tastes is obviously a huge part of the equation. But what’s in the glass is also a question of context (geographical, cultural, historical), and I’m most engaged when a bottle speaks of the place from which it came.
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For that reason, I don’t drink a lot of South American wine. I tend to view most bottles from this part of the world as conforming to a certain oversaturated modern style, weighed down with alcohol, oak, and extraction. So I did a double take when I learned that Louis/Dressner Selections — the iconic importer of handcrafted wines from Europe — recently had made its first foray south of the equator, adding a Chilean winery to its portfolio. Even more curiously, the young winemaker in question, Louis-Antoine Luyt, is a native Burgundian trained in the “natural” style of winemaking.
But although he uses grapes from local Chilean farmers, Luyt’s wines are reminiscent of many French natural wines, raising interesting questions about the relationship between terroir and technique.
Having arrived in Chile at age 22, Luyt first found work washing dishes at a local restaurant, climbed his way up to beverage director, and eventually enrolled in sommelier school in Santiago. This exposed him to a wide selection of Chilean wine, most of which, he admits in an interview on the Louis/Dressner website, he found too homogenous and industrial. So he decided to do what any self-respecting Frenchman would do: Make his own.
Luyt returned to France to study enology in Beaune. He soon befriended Matthieu Lapierre, son of the late Beaujolais legend Marcel, whose family domaine in the town of Villié-Morgon invokes a religious reverence among natural wine acolytes. The five harvests Luyt worked Chez Lapierre amounted to an exhaustive apprenticeship in the art of natural viticulture: organic farming; no chemicals, sprays, commercial yeasts or additives of any kind; and a minimalist aproach in the cellar.
Luyt took this philosophy back to Chile, where he sources organic fruit from several parcels of extremely old vines rented from independent growers throughout the Maule Valley. Although he crafts fascinating examples using southern French grapes such as Carignan and Cinsault, to my mind his most compelling wines result from his efforts to reclaim the humble, light-skinned Pais variety, historically a ubiquitious ingredient in Chilean jug wine. Luyt currently produces three separate bottlings of Pais, each highlighting a specific parcel of vines. His “Huasa de Trequilemu” and “El Paìs de Quenehuao,” for example, are bright, slightly spicy, Beaujolais-inspired wines that taste unlike anything I’ve encountered from Chile.
In fact, as much as I enjoyed both efforts, they reminded me of some natural wines I’ve had from France. As critics have started to point out, many natural wines — even those from completely different regions — can taste quite similar to one another.
Natural wine’s signature style
The culprit is a technique called carbonic maceration, which involves fermenting whole bunches of grapes before crushing. Traditionally used in Beaujolais, it has since spread throughout France as a common feature of natural winemaking. If you’ve ever had a wine made this way, you’ll immediately recognize its signature, almost trademark style: Bright and effortlessly fresh, with low alcohol, glug-able berry-ish fruit and occasionally a light prick of spritz.
Writer Alice Feiring deftly sums up this paradox: “These wines are often just what I want. But terroir? No, it’s a style. It’s a beverage, but a great one.”
It’s worth clarifying that not all natural wines use carbonic maceration, and many that do utterly transcend the category. The practice is best understood as one of many options available to a winemaker, like the use of oak, which can either sharpen or dilute a wine’s message.
So do Luyt’s efforts meticulously articulate their respective Maule Valley terroirs? Or do they simply export a style originally developed in France? It’s hard to say. For one, it’s difficult to find Pais bottled as a single varietal, so a standard of comparison is elusive. That said, having recently tried one of Luyt’s zesty carbonic Carignans, I’m not entirely convinced I’d be able to distinguish it from an identically made example from the South of France, although I did find myself detecting a bit more bold Southern Hemisphere fruit, as well as some peppery herbs.
It’s far too easy to let these big, abstract questions distract from what’s in the glass. This is a shame, because the wines are truly tasty — after all, I happen to like that whole natural carbonic thing, certainly more than the oaky, overripe alternatives. So even if Luyt’s lineup might seem fashioned after many of the familiar natural-styled bottles you’d find in any hip Parisian (or Brooklyn) wine bar, his work represents a bold development for Chile. That should be enough for anyone, even curmudgeons like me.
Top photo composite:
Winemaker Louis-Antoine Luyt. Credit: Courtesy of Louis-Antoine Luyt
One of Louis-Antoine Luyt’s Carignan wines. Credit: Zachary Sussman
At Zester Daily, we scour the world for interesting food and drink stories to share with our fans. As luck would have it, we only had to drive an hour south to Orange County, California, to find our latest discovery: Best Wines Online, a new wine e-tailer we know you will enjoy.
We have trusted the talents of founders Kyle Meyer and Tristen Beamon since their years managing another wine store. Their well-earned reputations as wine sleuths able to sniff out values in the obscure corners of wine’s ever expanding universe are complemented by an encyclopedic knowledge of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Their picks reflect a preference for balanced wines that shine on the dinner table. Kyle and Tris take the time to learn the backstories of the wines they sell. With their guidance, wine shopping is more treat than chore.
When we learned this dynamic duo was opening a store of their own, we jumped at the chance to introduce the venture to Zester fans.
Discounts for hand-selected wines
Today, we are proud to announce that Zester Daily and Best Wines Online have launched a marketing partnership. Each week, Kyle and Tris will hand-select a wine they will make available to Zester subscribers at an exclusive 10% discount below the store’s already competitive prices.
Zester newsletter subscribers will find a Best Wines Online promotion detailing the weekly wine offer in our new Weekender newsletter sent out toward the end of the workweek.
On bestwinesonline.com, you’ll find detailed wine descriptions and a growing library of videos both from Kyle and Tris’ travels as well as interviews with winemakers who visit their shop. Their personal touch extends to customer service. When you call their store during California office hours, you’ll get a living, breathing human being on the phone.
They are limiting their stock to 1,000 labels — enough variety to represent the wide world of top-shelf wines along with stacks of tantalizing under $20 treats. Rare among boutique e-tailers, the pair also feature hard-to-get older vintages straight from the wineries.
We know you will enjoy getting to know Kyle and Tris and their particularly delicious take on fine wine at bestwinesonline.com. Sign up now for Zester’s newsletter so you won’t miss out on any of these delicious deals.
Top photo: Kyle Meyer and Tristen Beamon of Best Wines Online. Photo and video credits: Matthieu Silberstein
The legacy of Jim Barrett, the 86-year-old owner of Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena who died last week, inspired this selection. The fresh, creamy-textured 2010 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay is a wonderfully balanced white with aromas of citrus and white flowers and flavors of green apple, lemon curd and wet slate.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
Price: $40 to $50
Region: Napa Valley, California
Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Serve with: Lobster salad, lemon-thyme chicken
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Chateau Montelena‘s historic 19th-century stone winery and vineyards north of Calistoga were neglected when Barrett snapped up the estate in 1972. He poured in money to restore it and hired Mike Ggrich, who now runs his own Grgich Hills Estate, as winemaker.
Several years later, the winery’s Chardonnay gained overnight fame when French judges rated the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (the second vintage) above four great white Burgundies in a blind comparison at the now legendary 1976 Paris tasting. Upon hearing the news, Barrett was widely quoted as saying, “Not bad for kids from the sticks.”
The tasting’s results reshaped the wine world forever. The complete story is well told in the book “The Judgment of Paris” by George Taber, the only journalist present at the tasting. The cheesy Hollywood movie “Bottle Shock” provides a fictionalized version of the Barrett/Montelena side of the tale.
Legacy of Jim Barrett continues
When many Napa Chardonnays jumped on the oaky, buttered popcorn style, Chateau Montelena remained true to its origins, avoiding malolactic fermentation (which reduces acidity) and aging only a small percentage in new oak.
It always seems to age better than most Napa Chardonnays.
The cool 2010 growing season was marked by a late August heat wave, which burned grapes in some wineries’ vineyards. Not at Chateau Montelena, where chief winemaker Bo Barrett doesn’t favor aggressive leaf-thinning — the grapes had plenty of shade until the harvest was finished in mid-October.
This 2010 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay is a combination of lush California fruit and a firm flinty finish that almost reminds me of Chablis. I tasted the wine on a visit to the Napa Valley a couple of weeks ago, soon after the winery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But I opened another bottle this past weekend to drink a toast to Jim Barrett.
Top photo composite:
Jim Barrett and label from 2010 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Credit: Courtesy of Chateau Montelena.
Lately I’ve been frustrating my customers, which is never a wise thing to do. We get asked all the time for analytical stats on the wines we offer and details about our winemaking practices. My catalogues tend to pass over such things, because I’ve reached a place in my drinking career where I find them otiose. This might seem snooty. So let me explain.
First, a wise quote from Peter Jost (of the estate Toni Jost), who said: “Judging a wine by its analysis is like judging a beautiful woman by her X-ray films.” Second, and further support for my theory, a remark I received from esteemed German winemaker Helmut Dönnhoff many years ago, when I asked him for the figures of a wine in my glass. “You don’t need these anymore, Terry,” he said. “Analyses are for beginners.”
But there are beginners, I must remember, and they’re curious, and it’s peevish for me to deny them the understanding they seek. If a drinker is interested in knowing how a wine was made, or in knowing what its acidity or residual-sugar or extract might be, this is entirely valid if she is trying to collate her palate’s impressions with the facts of the matter. That is a useful way of thinking — until it isn’t anymore.
ZESTER DAILY CONNECTIONS
The ecstasy of defeat
I well remember traveling with an earnest young colleague who sought to guess how a wine was made strictly from its taste. He was especially eager to identify cask versus stainless steel aging. I loved the guy, but I knew the perplexing denouement that quivered a few days down the road. For indeed, at one winery where all the wines were done in cask, my pal was sure they used steel, and yielded to his dismay; however hard he tried, he just wasn’t getting it. When I told him he’d crossed the Rubicon into a place of far greater wisdom, he thought I had a screw loose. I tried to reassure him that being right was reassuring, but being wrong invited epiphany; you ascended to greater understanding through your mistakes.
I remember, though, the urge to understand, to find explanations, to learn the causes and effects of flavor. We mustn’t frustrate that urge – it’s human to be curious and I think we should respect curiosity. But we also have to help drinkers understand the limits of this vein of knowledge. It is a closed system that gives the simulacrum of expertise while actually leaving us in an airless chamber of our minds. We feel terribly knowledgeable discussing the details of a wine, but there’s a big-picture glaring at us that this approach won’t let us see.
If you’re hungry for knowledge of how a grower trains his vines, prunes his vines, binds his vines; if you seek to know the density of plantings per hectare and the space between the rows; if you’re curious about which clones were used, how the canopies were worked, if and when the winemaker did a green harvest, if the grapes were picked by hand, with what-size teams and with one big bucket or several smaller ones, then these are things you ought to know. Shame on me for finding them ancillary and ultimately trivial.
More than the sum of its yeasts
If you want to know the wines’ total acids, the amount of its sweetness, the must-weights of the grapes at picking, whether it fermented with ambient or with cultured yeasts, how it was clarified, what vessel it fermented in and at what temperature (and if the temperature was technologically controlled), whether it sat on its gross or fine lees and for how long, and whether it was developed in steel or in wood — I don’t mind telling you. But it worries me some. Because I fear that for each one of you who sincerely wants to compare what his palate receives with what’s actually inside the wine, there are many of you who want to enact value-judgments prior to tasting, because you’ve decided what’s permissible and what’s despicable. (This nonsensical approach is rampant in Germany.)
I am decidedly not in favor of excluding tasters from any wine because they disapprove of the effing yeast that was deployed, or because they won’t go near a wine with more than X-grams of sweetness. Who wants to enable something so repugnant?
Nor am I willing to abet the sad phenomenon of people talking about wine with what seems like authority, because of the “information” they’ve accumulated, whereas they’re actually blocked from attaining true authority by the rigid limits of their approach. If you’re stuck in the “how,” you’ll have a rough time finding your way to the “what.” And that is where true wisdom lies. The wonky isn’t a bad place to be, for a while, but it’s a dangerous place to stop, because like all objects of beauty, wine is more than the sum of its parts. If you’re busily probing into technical minutiae, will you remember to consider not only the application of technique but the expression of a vintner’s spirit? Will you remember to pause for just a second and consider how a wine makes you feel?
Photo: Terry Theise. Credit: Anna Stöcher
Zester Daily readers have shown an appreciation for a stunning variety of stories over the past year. A quick scan of the 2012 reader favorites reveals a yen for Ruth Bourdain’s dishes, cuisine from every corner of the world, food preservation, photography, films, wine insider news and a treasured recipe for flavored marshmallows — as well as a critique of American taste.
Snippets of the 12 most popular Zester Daily contributors’ stories, plus the five most popular Soapboxes, are below. Follow the story links to read the complete text. Follow the contributor links to read more by each author.
The stories are listed in reverse order.
Top contributors’ stories of 2012
12. THE ORIGINS OF CURRY by Raghavan Iyer: Before I try to define the word “curry,” let me create an image for you from my college laboratory days in India where I pursued a degree in chemistry over 20 years ago. As I busied myself measuring crystals of …
11. OLD-SCHOOL SOY SAUCE by Manuela Zoninsein: There’s no one right ritual or rule to guide your eating extravaganza on Jan. 23. The Chinese New Year involves a number of great food traditions. Dumplings are reminiscent of coins in ancient China and will thus bring …
10. TEN BEST FOODIE FLICKS by David Latt: If cold weather traps you indoors for months each winter, you might run through your queue of streaming movies pretty quick. Why not entertain yourself with a library of the best …
9. HOW KERMIT LYNCH TAUGHT AMERICANS HOW TO DRINK WINE by Patrick Comiskey: Forty years ago, Kermit Lynch abandoned the handmade purse industry and opened a wine shop in Berkeley, Calif., and in doing so, became one of the great innovators of …
8. WINE’S ACCUSED GRIFTER, RUDY KURNIAWAN by Corie Brown: By the summer of 2006, when I first noticed Rudy Kurniawan at Christie’s in Beverly Hills, he had transformed the market for old wine from a sleepy backwater into a high-stakes free-for-all. Only the richest wine collectors knew him. Or thought they did …
6. EATING TO BEAT CANCER: DIET MAY PROVE TO BE A CURE by Harriet Sugar Miller: Last night, it was cauliflower curry on a bed of leeks while my husband grilled his own slab of meat. The night before I ate solo — and downed an enormous bag of kale chips (please don’t tell him) flavored with cashew dust and too much …
4. IN DEFENSE OF TRUFFLE OIL by Lynne Curry: Midwinter is high season for fresh truffles in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. With the help of an experienced truffle hunter (or a trained dog), I could spend …
2. CANNING JARS FROM FAUX TO BEST PRESERVING CHOICES by Susan Lutz: About six months ago, I salvaged a beautiful marinara sauce jar that I intended to refill with home-canned sweet pickles made using my mother’s recipe. And if I hadn’t taken a 12-week course to become a certified Master Food Preserver, I might have …
1. FLAVORED MARSHMALLOWS MADE FROM SCRATCH by Charles Perry: When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions. If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is …
Top Soapboxes of 2012
5. DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS IS FOR AMERICANOS, TOO by Veronica Gonzalez-Smith: In the small town of El Paso, Texas, my siblings and I grew up at a unique intersection of Mexican and American culture. As kids, we traveled in and out of …
4. THE INFANTALIZATION OF AMERICAN TASTE by Michael Krondl: Though the plague of cupcake shops has not spared any city in this great union, it would be hard to find one that illustrates my point better than …
3. CALIFORNIA’S EXCITING NEW WINES BUCK THE MAINSTREAM by Eric Asimov: We live in the most wonderful era in history to love wine. Right now, Americans have access to a greater diversity of wines than ever before, wines made in more styles from more …
2. THE FORGOTTEN QUINCE by Jane McMorland Hunter: Nowadays most people hardly know what a quince looks like. Until the 19th century, it was a commonplace orchard fruit throughout North America and Europe; now it has become …
1. RUTH BOURDAIN DISSES AND DISHES WITH ZESTER by Ruth Bourdain: It’s been more than two years since the debut of Ruth Bourdain, the sensational and often raunchy Twitter persona whose name and sensibilities are a mashup/spoof of former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and outspoken celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The true identity of Ms. Bourdain is still under wraps, but her tweets show her to be ….
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And that’s our list for 2012 … Here’s to discovering Ms. Bourdain’s identity in 2013!
Photo illustration, clockwise from top left:
Ruth Bourdain. Credit: Ruth Bourdain
Indian spices (originally published in 660 Curries). Credit: Ben Fink
Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood
Photo illustration credit: Karen Chaderjian