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Archive for March, 2010

One Region–Any Style

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 10 - 2010


Or, Problems with Stereotyping

Wine itself is not terribly complicated. All the variables involved with wine make it a tall mountain to climb, though. The way we deal with it is to try to make it simpler, and this is the right thing to do. But the route to simplicity has been paved with generalizations and stereotypes. This is the easier way to go, I suppose...after all, we're taught to stereotype from a young age--German Barbie anyone? Ooh--I almost missed the obvious one: Malibu Barbie! Anatomical absurdities aside, do all girls from Malibu really look like this? If so, my inner Ken will be moving to California.

If not, as is of course the case, then such painful inaccuracies must exist everywhere we use stereotypes, and within the wine world, these generalizations are increasingly erroneous. For example, it would be insanely short-sighted of us to expect the people of a wine region to make wines in one general style, yet we do that very thing every day when we suggest that there is a specific "style" of California Chardonnay or Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Those terms--especially "California Chardonnay"--have been in use for so long that anyone, at least anyone who has some wine experience, will know what you mean. It is certainly easier than saying, "a low-acid, milk and butter-flavored Chardonnay with new oak treatment of some kind and significant residual sugar," or something along those lines, but this stereotype is becoming obsolete. The breadth of variety in style is just too broad to justify this--just ask the people making Chardonnay at Lioco, Ridge, Hanzell, Radio-Coteau, Au Bon Climat, Arcadian, Ancien, to name just a few. The Chardonnays from these producers are as different from each other as they are from the California stereotype, so they are really problematic: they fall under the rubric of "California Chardonnay" but they are perhaps more accurately, if a little too generally, categorized as "French Style" Chardonnay. But neither do they taste like they came from France, and there we've stereotyped another category--two categories, actually: wines from France, and Chardonnays from California that are noted, not for their sense of too-muchness, but for their sense of site specificity.

This stereotyping of wine styles (and countries!) doesn't do much good anymore, and I'm not pursuaded it ever did anything other than make my job selling wine easier. Aussie Shiraz has been assigned a stereotype, but if you have a bottle from Yarra Valley or Margaret River, those wines will bear little resemblance to the stereotypical (oops!) Shiraz from Barossa, McLaren Vale, et al. Oh, but now the salesman in me feels the need to say what they ARE like! Is it easier to say that Yarra Valley is a cooler climate, so the Shiraz is less "ripe" (read: overripe) and sweet and is lower in alcohol than "other" OZ Shiraz? Or what if I said it is a more European-styled Syrah (it's the same grape, just a different name)? I'd argue that the latter is easier.

But that's all it is. It does no justice to the wine in the glass, nor as I have said, to the region in comparison. Besides, it supposes that you are already familiar with European Syrah, and if you are was it an archetypal European Syrah? What the heck would that be like anyway?

I know that we need to have a frame of reference to quickly process our experiences, but it is far more useful to simply describe the wine in question based upon its own merits. This has little to do with justice or fairness to a wine. It is, rather, an acknowledgement of the complexities of wine without oversimplification. Not only that--it also raises the excitement factor, because if you benchmark a particular Australian Shiraz against a counterpart from France, and the person you're talking to doesn't like French Syrah, then they'll lose interest. However, if you describe it on its own merits, the wine stands a better chance of providing enjoyment, which is what it is supposed to do in the first place.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Warm Welcome in Alsace

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 3 - 2010

I visited Alsace on the day following my trip to Champagne. If you take the obscenely early train out of Paris, the TGV goes directly to Colmar, where I rented a Fiat Panda (complete with an engine that would have been better off in a sewing machine) to navigate Alsace's snowy roads. Perhaps it was because visitors to the region are rare in February, but everywhere I turned I was greeted warmly, starting with the person who helped me find free parking in Eguisheim, a beautiful little village south of Colmar where there is a racket on parking. My appointment in Eguisheim was at Bruno Sorg, where I tasted with oenologist François Sorg, whose wines were glorious. They are mostly unavailable in the U.S. (a tragedy!), unless you're in Chicago. I made a brief stop at Trimbach in Ribeauvillé, and finished the day at Weinbach in Kaysersberg. Because this is Alsace, all of these estates are relatively close together--the longest drive was 15 minutes, and road signage is so comprehensive that I didn't even need the map I bought in Colmar.

Finding a Home for the Night
Schools in Alsace were on a week-long hiatus, so I had a difficult time finding a place to stay, as apparently most of the families that run the small hotels were away on holiday. As I swung the Singer by Fiat into the drive at Domaine Weinbach, I called my intended overnight destination in Kaysersberg, but the hotel was closed! Perhaps I should have investigated this earlier.... I didn't have time to call other hotels immediately as I was right on time for my appointment, so I stepped from the car into a world far different from the one I'd left (Ribeauvillé, which was somehow less intimate): a blanket of quiet, with butterflies of snow swirling about, cars passing silently in the distance beneath the white terraces of the Schlossberg Grand Cru, which, through the thick snow, looked as though it was sailing on by. This was perfect preparation for the tasting ahead--Weinbach's 2008s: elegant, lithe, pensive wines, though the Gewurztraminers were quite full-figured. I have been a long-time admirer of these wines, and tasting 25 of them in one sitting was a wonderful experience. I've never gotten such a strong impression of wines being crafted expressly for practical use (i.e., with an extraordinarily wide variety of foods). Clearly these are my people!

I eventually remembered I needed lodging for the night, so I asked winemaker Laurence Faller if she knew of a hotel that might be open. She mentioned a couple of options but suggested that I consult further with her mother when we were finished. So Madame Colette Faller (who has been the force and spirit of the estate since her husband Théo died in 1979) gave me more assistance than I deserved! In the end, Madame Faller spent 45 MINUTES helping me find a place that was open, and gave me very detailed directions to a marvelous place--the Hôtel du Faudé--in the village of Lapoutroie.

A Mountain Retreat
Nestled in the Vosges Mountains above the Kaysersberg Valley, Lapoutroie is only 10 km from Kaysersberg and 12 km from an excellent ski area, which would explain why the Hôtel du Faudé was mostly full when I arrived. They have three restaurants, but I chose the one specializing in regional cuisine, because it was serving one of my favorite Alsatian dishes, Baeckeoffe (pronounced "beck-eh-off-uh" more or less), a hearty pot roast-ish concoction with a heady aroma and sensuous texture. From the extraordinary wine list, I settled on a '07 Pinot Gris from Domaine Weinbach to honor Madame Faller who had sent me there, and at the end of my meal, the hotel proprietor sat talking with me for an hour, telling me about the area and colloquializing my French. With kindness from every quarter, no one could have done anything else to make me feel more welcome.

The wine was great with the Baeckeoffe, as Pinot Gris usually is. And as I said, the women at Domaine Weinbach are crafting wines meant to give the Spinal Tap treatment to your dining experience (as opposed to your drinking experience, where an Aussie Shiraz might go to eleven all on its own), and it worked.

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Video Today


You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

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