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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

...yeah! What he said!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Jon Bonné over at MSNBC has just posted a brilliant article exploring the difficulties of recommending wines. This is a topic I broached none too eloquently a few months back. I did such a lousy job that when the said article ran in the local paper, my Dad called me to give me writing advice, and he's an accountant. The truth is, it's difficult to not be cynical with the "McDonaldization" of the top 90% of wine sold in this country. Oh well, we can just continue to fight the good fight!

Terroir (hu, good god!), what is it good for?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Throughout the world, people of purported wine knowledge drop the “terroir”, assuming that a) they can identify it from a hole in the ground b) it has some sort of importance c) it makes a wine better. As with all good things in life, moderation is the best use of this term, and with understanding and respect, if not full-on appreciation.

The French at their Frenchiest, devised a term many years ago that still has no direct translation into English. That word: Terroir (tare-wahr). It sort of means that a wine smells, looks and tastes like it has a sense of place, or something in that wine indicates where the wine came from. It also refers to everything that affects the way a wine smells and tastes that is environmental, including climate, geographical situation and aspect, soil types, elevation, other species of influencing fauna surrounding the vines, etc… So what does terroir taste like, um, well, I know it when I see it. Actually, terroir, to me tastes like anything that seems unnatural for either fruit, or wood to smell or taste like. So, if it smells like eucalyptus its certainly terroir, strawberries are not. Not all wine has terroir, and some wine gets by just fine without it.

We have seen a global shift in recent years towards “new world style” of wines, which is essentially high alcohol, highly structured big juicy fruity reds that fall into the flavor profiles of Aussie Shiraz, California Zinfandel and wines of that style. Terroirists (yes that is a word) believe that this shift toward theses wines is the first sign of the cultural apocalypse. These wines have garnered big scores in the publications, so the mouth-breathing masses have gravitated towards wines of that style because The Wine Prognosticator has deemed them worthy of 90 points. This, much to the dismay of the purists.

The question that everyone forgets to ask is why is terroir a good thing? Something I never stopped to consider myself until fairly recently. After all, with the absence of terroir, many wines end up tasting sweet or fruity or just delicious. It occupies the same part of our heart that we devote to chocolate and coffee drinks and the ilk, sophistication be damned. And to be truthful, wines like that are great. There is no guilt that anyone should ever put on you for loving wines that are like that. It speaks to the visceral need for yummy things. Most people begin drinking wines that taste like this, and some may graduate to terroir driven wines. But wine can be about more than what tastes great, it is also about all of the feelings and emotions it can impart, and that is where the importance of terroir comes through. Terroir inspires the heart and the mind. It brings back old palate and olfactory memories long thought forgotten. It transports us back to specific instance and moments. It makes you think and want to talk about your wine experience. Terroir inspires the imagination and transports you to a place you’ve never been. All at once you smell the ocean breeze, or the lilac fields. Oh, and the wine can taste pretty good too.

The new world style of wines speaks directly to our inner Homer Simpson, while Terroir speaks to our inner Walt Whitman. The choice is up to you, but I think that you should take some time to try both styles of wine, and keep trying both and see where it takes you.

Don't Curb Your Enthusiasm

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My youngest brother occassionally pulls out the quote from Almost Famous about being uncool. Well, I'd like to appropriate that and make a modification. "The only currency left in this bankrupt world (of wine) is what 2 people share when they are geeks, and Chris Watson and I are geeks" Furthermore, my other brother has given me a pretty good working definition of the difference between a geek and a nerd. A geek gets excited about details that no one else cares about, while a nerd is so obsessed with the mundane details that it overwhelms their social abilities. I know that it's a fine line, but when you live as close to that line as I do, I think it's important to draw it.

Anyhoo, I have been meaning to post about the great evening we had with two of our favorite people, Chris Watson (photo, center)and his lovely fiancee Erin (photo,left), a few weeks back. Heather (photo, right) and I were invited over for a little lasagna and wine (note the little is on the lasagna, not the wine). After a few bottles, It occurred to me that one of the reasons that Chris and I get along so well is that we share the exact same level of enthusiasm for Food & Wine. And I know as much about wine as he knows about food, and my food knowledge is on par with his wine knowledge. So we could ask each other questions all night long, but the other halves would get tired of rolling thier eyes. But it brings me to a point, enthusiasm is a quality that is overlooked in almost every industry. Rarely is enthusiasm listed among the qualifications for a resume, and if anything, it can be a complement when nothing else comes to mind durinag a review. But the quality that may be overlooked is often the most important ingredient for success. Naysayers never change the world, it's impossible to to start a half-hearted revolution. And Chris has enthusiasm, his biggest hurdle has been getting the rest of the world to buy into it.
As one of the most talented chefs I know, Chris has had no trouble plating it up, it's when someone finds him that thinks they want to hitch their wagon to him, until he he presents the unexpected ,and try to limit what he does. So his latest and greatest gig is a little restaurant in Ojai called Bodee's. And the acclaim is huge, but I suspect that he will continue to be a rising star in the world of wine and food, and one day, someone will close their eyes and take a ride on the What can Chris really do if left unencumbered Express!

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