Sunday, April 29, 2012

Breaking out of the rut

Wine drinkers, wine buyers, we all get into ruts. Johnny Bayside (AKA Bronx - he just moved) wants the Merlot from Argentina. Samba wants cheap and cheerful. I liked the Niepoort Douro Twisted and think it's a good off-beat choice for those in search of a robust red. The boss wants a red from the Loire. This is the flip side of knowing what you want - your taste narrows, and you become like Madame Chard du Chene, someone who needs serious intervention to avoid drinking the same thing for the rest of your life.

One of my friends, the hedge funder who hasn't lost his frugal streak, came up with a clever way to solve this problem. Rather than ask for German riesling with a touch of residual sugar, he asked me to get him wines that "tasted like honey dripped on slate." He did end up with two German rieslings, but he also got two Loire whites, a muscadet from Clos de Briods and Chidaine's entry level sauvignon blanc; a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon from Bordeaux; and a pinot gris from Alsace, a grape once known as the Tokay d'Alsace until the Hungarians complained to the European Union, which required the Alsatians to change the name. (Tokai is the grape from which a famous sweet wine is made and is even mentioned in the Hungarian national anthem: "O God, let nectar’s silver rain ripen grapes of Tokay soon.") The hedge funder liked the Rieslings and thought the white Bordeaux was OK; the other three remain unconsumed.

Another approach is to go to tastings and buy what you like. A few weeks ago, I very much enjoyed a Grignolino from Tavijn, a producer in the Asti Province of Piedmont. The wine was light with a pleasant nose, nice acidity and an earthiness reminiscent of Cabernet franc, which made me recommend it the boss, who perked up his ears at the Oxford Wine Dictionary's comparison of Grignolino to Dolcetto. Italian immigrants to California brought Grignolino with them, and the famous California producer Heitz makes a wine from the varietal that's currently on the list at Annisa in the West Village and can be had for $20 a bottle at Astor St. Wines. Heitz also makes a Grignolino rose. Having associates Heitz with expensive cabs, I was pleased to learn that they offer lighter, cheaper wines from a grape that they proudly note on their website is often called "the little strawberry" in Italy and recalls an era of California winemaking that's almost lost today. How's that for breaking out of a rut?           

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Revisiting a Chablisien riot

Difficult as perceptions of smell and taste are to describe, memories of them are even more fleeting. Perhaps the most famous literary recounting of such a memory, of course, is Proust's madeleine. As an adult, the narrator of Swann's Way tastes one of the little cakes dipped in tea, a morsel that immediately conjures a vivid, precise memory of the room in Marcel's aunt once gave him such treats. But beyond remarking that the tea was lime-blossom, the narrator makes no attempt to describe the taste itself. "Clearly, the truth I am seeking is not in the drink but in me," the narrator writes before searching his mind for "the image, the visual memory which is attached to this taste," which itself remains a mystery. Sweet? Delicate? Exactly like the madeleine at some Paris bakery? We never find out. If Proust won't take up this challenge, what chance do the rest of us have with it?

I can scarcely remember the precise flavors of even the wines I like most.Two years ago at a packed tasting of wines from Chablis at Crush Wines, I sampled the 2008 Rosette from Olivier and Alive de Moor. I remember the wine was delicious in a riotous way, the flavors popping on the tongue, and that it seemed ready to drink then. I remember making a very big check mark next to the listing for the wine on the sheet listing the tasting lineup, which still litters my apartment. I probably gurgled with pleasure, though I can't swear to it. I also remember that the wine was $35 a bottle, and that frugality won the day over luxuriance.

I later split some oysters and a bottle of De Moor's aligote, a dry, crisp, acidic white, with friends on a few occasions at Bar Henry on Houston Street. The De Moor was good but not dreamy, though it wasn't made or priced to be. (Speaking of oysters and downtown wine bars, the owner at Ten Bells recommended a glass of the Lunotte menu pineau with his $1.25 before 7:00 P.M. specials. By the same producer as the Rossignoux I discussed a few weeks ago, the menu pineau was a lot more balanced.)

Union Square Wines had a few de Moors on offer at the store's sale last month, and I picked up a bottle of the '09 Rosette to serve with the poulet chez Madame Chard du Chene (OK, chicken at Mom's house). The wine was good, with honey, citrus, maybe a hint of almond and acidity that could have used some more integration into the wine that a few years in the bottle will perhaps provide, but it wasn't riotous. Perhaps I need to hunt down a bottle of the '08 Rosette to see if the riotousness remains - but then, of course, two years will have passed with their mellowing effect, and I would have to remember how the few mouthfuls tasted in 2008 to discern any mellowing. As Proust probably realized, it'd be easier to make the whole thing up.