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Archive for the ‘the little guy’ Category

The Trouble with Late Bloomers

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Posted by Burke Morton On August - 24 - 2012

That Whine's Ready to they're not young and sexy! We--in the impersonal, cultural sense (so not necessarily you...or me...)--are obsessed with youth. You wouldn't have to try hard to convince me that this has been true since the earliest hominids reached middle-age and first noticed the nubile charms of their H-O-T hot youth frolicking through the ferns. Eons have passed, and there has been nothing to stop the insanity! Just take a look at music: in popular music, attractive kids are first snatched into the stage-mom vortex at the Disney Channel, and if they kind of have talent, that's an added gift; in classical music, the examples of child prodigies are legion--young violinists or pianists are lionized because of their technical facility, and while physical beauty is not so important, well, it sure would be a plus.

This attraction to youth is, I have noticed, also true with wine. For a while, economic factors--and advances in winemaking technology--drove many producers to make flashy, fresh, up-front wines. It makes perfect sense: as the buying public grew, the horde of new wine drinkers gravitated naturally to the wines that are easy to drink right away. Such wines have always existed, but now they can be as tutti-fruitti as you could want, and that makes them even easier to slurp down.

Too Much of a Good Thing
My least favorite scion of this trend is the wine that you can either drink now, or save for twenty years. You can do this with most any wine of course, but I'm talking about wines that are fruit-forward as well as capable of aging. It's the vinous equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. Advances in technology now allow winemakers to control oxygen absorption (micro-oxygenation) to a specific degree before bottling. While oxygen is the the enemy of wine, it can--if well-monitored--make a wine more approachable. This means that now you can buy wine that will, supposedly, taste great young (because the tannins are softly nestled into the structure and expressed with varying degrees of intensity, directly proportional to the price you paid) and age beautifully (those tannins are intended to ensure longevity...though I've witnessed many wines that are decrepit before their time).

I don't know about you, but despite my inclination toward wild flights of fancy, this notion has my reality-o-meter blaring like a car horn in a box-blocking traffic jam. A wine that is delicious now and is great after a score of years sounds idiotic. It's like Kingsford charcoal, which now "lights faster, burns longer!" How's that possible? Imagine the chemical engineering that went into that! This is the wine world's version of a dress-'em-up-to-look-old-enough kind of thing, and not the way a 16 year-old tries to look twenty-one. It's more disturbing than that...there's something a bit too JonBenét Ramsey about it for me.


Continued in Part II on Monday

Popularity: 64% [?]

Wine Region Once Removed

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 15 - 2010

In the Loire Valley, the appellations are mostly dispersed along the banks of the Loire River, and some of its tributaries. There are a few curious regions that are generally included under the administrative umbrella of the Loire Valley that have about as much in common with the Loire as a cygnet does with ducklings. In fact, I have heard some Loire Valley producers refer to one of these regions in particular, Châteaumeillant, as the ugly duckling of the Loire.

Châteaumeillant is a young appellation, raised to AOC status in 2007. Only red and rosé wines are permitted under AOC rules, and the two grapes responsible for its wines are Gamay and Pinot Noir. The wines in Châteaumeillant are quite distinctive and have shown consistent and excellent quality in recent years, so some of them are now showing up on shelves in the United States. I recently bought a bottle each of two '07s from the same estate--Geoffrenet-Morval's Version Originale, and Extra-Version. Calling them fascinating is an understatement. I wonder how well they will sell? They are not geared toward what is often perceived as an "American" palate, but neither are they difficult to appreciate. Is this the kind of wine that retailers will balk at because they'll have to hand sell it? Well, we'll see.

The Wines--With & Without Food
The Version Originale is 100% Gamay, and was delicious and vibrant--heady blue fruit aroma and a light body with a lovely black currant tint to the flavor. Beautiful color--dark heliotrope, catches the light like crystal. Wow. A tricky wine for usage, because tannins are initially sleek but build steadily. It's great depth of flavor and slight salinity steered me toward tuna tartare, and that worked beautifully. Had a small plate of charcuterie to start, and the combination was dynamite with it (except for the chicken liver mousse, but that's no surprise). Spanks every other Loire Valley Gamay I've ever had (and that's actually saying something).

The Extra-Version, a name no doubt filled with double meaning [it both capitalizes on the French word for extroversion (extraversion) and because it is another version of Châteaumeillant, because it is atypical], is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay, an unusual blend, as Châteaumeillant is generally Gamay-based with no more than 40% Pinot Noir. Soaring, edgy aroma that is full of rhubarb, blackberry, and lavender. Lithe but not flexible, this might be controversial for someone expecting it to be more "Pinot Noir"--the vivacity is quite rotund, but it comes through a fairly light-body. I loved it with a napoleon of capicola, frisée, Cherokee Purple tomato, and classic southern mustard sauce between flats of jicama. I imagine it would also be quite delicious with trout.

Popularity: 12% [?]

The Gift in the Glass

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 6 - 2010

Peace had come to our kitchen.

At last.

My wife sat across from me as we shared a glass of wine. Our children had just gone upstairs to get ready for bed and, like old friends and lovers do, we settled easily into this potentially misappropriated moment (siblings often need policing, you know). She slipped her hand into mine as we each shared our news of the week. We continued to drink the wine as we had during dinner, though the passing of it back and forth between us became more rhythmic as our dialogue evolved, a slow heartbeat of sniffing and sipping—the peaceful sonic canvas for our conversation.

Eventually we heard arguing going on upstairs. Since we hadn't sent the kids upstairs to argue, it was time to get them back on track. It’s a common tale. Parents of older children may recognize this scene with varying degrees of fondness, and I have no doubt that young parents are living the realities that lie behind it--working all day only to be stretched thin by working another job or trying to get their children to their next time-occupying cliché, and then home to some semblance of nutrition. I don’t know about you, but this is the sort of thing we like to complain about, but only so that we don't come to resent it too much. And all of this racing around makes us cherish these moments alone together even more.

The wine, a red Burgundy (Pinot Noir), was notably delicious, but integral as it was to our brief encounter, we didn't speak about the wine at all as we sat alone, and this is as it should be. Wine can fit so perfectly in these situations--it was both the hub on which we built our intimate moment, and the insulation around it. Some cynics might contend that it would have gone the same way with a Diet Coke, but a Diet Coke doesn’t smell like this wine did…when was the last time the experience of your soda was like nestling your nose in a pillow of cherries strewn with violets? Would our conversation have been different with another drink? I’m certain it wouldn’t have had the long-striding, carefree direction that it did. Perhaps, if we hadn’t found the wine so appealing, our experience would have been different, but it was right for us at that moment. The wine, and expressly the sharing of it, elevated our experience like nothing else could have.

How do I know? Before heading off upstairs, my wife stood, glass in hand, and, eyebrows raised, offered the final sip to me. I shook my head, so she drank it, and right as she did, I heard her breathe in: an inward sigh, a breath searching for a final bit of sensory enjoyment before having to tackle something else. I know that breath. I have made it myself, and with wine you’d do that without thinking.

Who’s doing that with Diet Coke?

Popularity: 5% [?]

Burnet Ridge Cabernet Franc

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 19 - 2010

Two weeks ago I tasted a wine that should create a stir, but it probably won't, just because it's from fruit grown in Ohio. The Ohio State University manages a research vineyard on the shore of Lake Erie, and they called Chip Emmerich, winemaker at Burnet Ridge Winery (based on the west side of Cincinnati), and asked him if he could use it. Obviously Chip said yes, since I'm writing about the wine, and he made a first rate wine.

Burnet Ridge generally makes wine from fruit grown in California and shipped on a train to Cincinnati. Burnet Ridge wines are reliably delicious. The most popular wine is called Purple Trillium, a delicious wine made from a blend of Bordeaux varieties. This isn't Chip's first foray into Ohio wine: a few years ago, he made an excellent Pinot Gris, also from Lake Erie fruit.

The Cabernet Franc that I tasted had just been bottled. It had a marvelous floral aroma that kept me coming back for another sniff again and again. So compelling was the aroma that five minutes passed before I actually tasted the wine itself. The wine was treated to some maturation in American oak, but the aroma didn't reveal this at all. It does show up in the flavor profile with a dusty cinnamon quality that is very attractive. Chip tells me that this is because he used Minnesota oak, which has a tighter grain than the more commonly used Missouri oak. Whatever the case, the result is delicious. It has been released, and you can inquire about getting some here.

Popularity: 8% [?]

A Too-Short Day in Champagne

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Posted by Burke Morton On February - 20 - 2010

François PetersOr specifically, a day at the only estate I could manage to fit into a six-hour span! The rail ads in Paris make a day-trip to Champagne sound easy (and it is), so I took the TGV from Paris to Reims, rented a car and drove south to drink some bubbly. Turns out that car access to the rail station in Reims is a morass of construction and detours, so naturally this figures prominently into the question of my punctuality for the return train to Paris, but that's another story. Thrilling though that tale is, the part you'll care more about (I hope) is that I spent the better part of an entire day at Pierre Peters, a small grower-producer in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a village south of Épernay.

An Ineffable Spirit
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is in the heart of that portion of Champagne known as the Côte des Blancs, referring to the white, high-chalk-content soil. In this area, Chardonnay is the only grape to which growers give serious consideration. This part of Champagne is Grand Central for Grand Cru vineyards, and Pierre Peters has holdings in four different crus: Le Mesnil, Oger, Avize, and Cramant. Grand Cru holdings don't ensure great wine, of course, but they do give one an edge. When that one is Pierre Peters, the wines are among the great Champagnes. For all you Chardonnay-weary folk out there, these wines also provide ample evidence/reminder that Chardonnay actually does deserve its exalted place in the firmament of wine.

Some have said that Peters' wines are textbook expressions of Blanc de Blancs Champagne, and that's not wrong, but that description doesn't accommodate the soulfulness of these wines, a trait that transcends the confines of "textbook". Peters' wines have an intimacy of élan, expressing their charms with dramatic flair, but they do it as though whispering into your ear. This may sound like mystical nonsense to you, but to me it is the underlying character that emerges only after you taste many Peters wines from through the past few decades.

Strong Even in Weak Vintages
The thoughtful and generous François Peters, erstwhile mind behind the wines at Pierre Peters (his son Rodolphe took over in 2008), presented a series of wines that far surpassed what I had hoped to encounter. We tasted a wide range of years and different cuvées. We started with the the always exciting non-vintage Cuvée de Réserve, then dove into the vintage wines. Two vintages that we tasted are considered "great" vintages--2002 and 1996--and indeed these wines were great. Naturally, the less-than-ideal vintages provide a more satisfying glimpse into the mastery of this estate, and the luminescence of the wines 2005 and 1993 vintages do just that. The '05 was positively velvety, which is not a quality I associate with this producer's wines. It was excellent and rather warmly comforting, although still a bit stiff, so I'll stash some of this one in my cellar to give it time to unwind. The '93 was the real revelation, as it bore no hint of the trickiness of this vintage. It was in the prime phase for drinking, sensuous and in perfect harmony, and no, I didn't spit this one.

Popularity: 6% [?]

A Week in France

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Posted by Burke Morton On February - 7 - 2010

Train à Grande VitesseI'm headed for France today--I'll be there for the next week while my wife is on a business trip for her employer. You can get from Paris to Reims in 45 minutes--thanks to the TGV--so while my wife is working, I will do some wine work Champagne. I'll be visiting two of my favorite small grower-producers, Pierre Peters in the Côte de Blancs (south of Epernay) and Vilmart further north in the Marne Valley (just south of Reims). Also thanks to the TGV, I'll spend two days visiting and tasting in the under-appreciated region of Alsace. It is a mere three hour zip across the country to the eastern corner of France, where I'll see several producers, including Trimbach, Weinbach, and Zind-Humbrecht (alas, they do not have a website). I know, it seems crazy that it's February and I'm going to be drinking a ton of white wine. Sounds perfect to me. I'll post updates as time allows--the next one will be from France!

Popularity: 6% [?]

Video Today

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

Popularity: 83% [?]


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