I’m Too Good For Wine Reviews

Clipboard clownYou know, sometimes, when the lights outside grow dim and the walls of my room start closing in, it occurs to me that despite having written more than two million words on wine over the years, and four hundred columns on this site alone, I actually shouldn’t be here at all.  I should be a lumberjack or something, like that Python skit; I should be a lion tamer, like that other Python skit. I should be a cheese shop owner like… never mind, I’m just depressing myself.  I can’t even think of an original fictitious career, except maybe being a leper junkie clown in Peoria or something that at least has some romance behind it.  Maybe I should be a writer.  See, that’s it.  My problem.  I should be a real writer, not some dipshit blogger counting Facebook likes and measuring success in terms of Twitter shares; I should be an old school tortured lonely drunken novelist or epic poet diddling nubile poetry students or something easy like that.

fI mean, look at Fitzgerald.  Take away his good looks, his money, his talent, his golden girl of Montgomery youth society and what do you have?  Oh yeah, me.

Who cares?  I’m on strike.  I’m turning the column over to my betters, the unfettered Men of Letters, and let them slog around in the shitstream of plonk for a while, see how they like it.  They’ll all emerge with a newfound respect for this poor schmuck’s schtick, boy howdy, lemme tell you, you betcha, can I get a witness?

You’re on, boys:

Castillo Monjardin Garnacha, Navarra, 1992:

A wine from a rare off-year in this quaint D.O. near Pamplona—the place where the bulls run.

Clipboard hemThen there was the bad vintage.  It was a sad year, and even the drunkards in the cafe who stayed drunk all the time could not remain drunkards that year on the local wine. The sadness started in the early part of the season with the first cold rains of spring and I drank a rum St. James when I sat in the cafe to write about it. I drank all through that summer, on sad days and happy days, until the fall came and the harvest was in.  It was a poor harvest and I asked my wife if we should leave and she said, “If you want.”

“Oh, yes, I want to leave, because there will be good harvests in other places, places where the sky is bright and the sun looks like a halved lemon in the sky.”

She smiled, because she liked decisions that were simple and easy.  “I’m sure you are right,” she said.

“Where shall we go?” I said.

“Let’s go without knowing,” she said.  “Let’s go and drink wines from places we don’t know but where the vintages are good.  We need more true mystery in our lives.”

Old South Winery ‘Blue Bayou’, Natchez, NV

‘Ahhh, nothing like a fresh muscadine!’ reads the web site, and I agree.  Thank God for small favors, huh?

Clipboard faulknerThis was muscadine:

Clumsy cloying, wine-like only in the shape of the bottle which tapered to a too-thin neck the color of a bronze coin, offering a whiff of mid-summer peaches wet with rain, but also like the smell of the place under the kitchen where the dogs huddled.

I must drink this, I thought, I must drink this and talk about it, even when I would rather have some of the Negro’s whiskey from the demijohn.  So I drank: Outside, secret night sounds blended with the sugary sap within the glass.  The owl’s cry echoed my confusion, high and abject, not ‘what’ but ‘who’ although both were clear by the label.  I drank: Even in this land of sweet tea and Coca Cola and Dr Pepper, wine was a called a woman’s drink, but this wine was strong and hot and rank, some condensation of the wild immortal spirit without mitigation or gender, and I drank quietly; drank the mongrel juice of these native grapes, fierce and bold against the incursion of vinifera, clinging to the untamed tastes of liberty and freedom, the invincible power of nature against the yards of men too proud of their white blood to defy its origin and who preferred the wines of tamer lands.

And then, I slept.

donneThree Choirs ‘Midsummer Hill’, Gloucestershire, 2012

From one of England’s most significant producers as well as the second largest, this lyrical and crisp white is made by Martin Fowke and, though simple, is worthy of words which are not.

‘Tis the year’s harvest, and it is the man’s,
Fowke’s, who well-trained in wine now tasks;
The solstice spent, and now his flasks
Sit barren dry, as empty spans;
The field’s sweet sap is spilled;

From glass to throat th’ hydroptic drunk hath filled,

And more, from cask to flask, by him is willed.

Full and weight’d; not hock nor claret,

In England’s yore what man could bear it?
Study me then, you who shall critics be
At wine’s next fair, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every late thing,
In whom global warming wrought new alchemy.
For man’s art and him the fool
A quintessence wrought from fossil fuel,
To foil both land and nature’s rule;
He ruin’d farms, but they were re-begot
In chard, black Pinot—vines once grew here not.

‘B.OE.’ Brooklyn Oenology ‘Montley Cru’, North Fork of Long Island, 2008

A winery in Brooklyn?  Indeed; grapes sourced from Long Island and Finger Lakes and vinified with all the love of a place surrounded by vineyards instead of dumpsters and Giants fans. Art by Brooklynites adds a further note of local flavor; good or bad is an aesthetic call.

Clipboard boeYup, yup, how come I like your wine, but I don’t like you?  Dig, this broadgash gal called Alie Shaper, she’s got money-making breasts and all the technical anxieties of a winemaker but she wants to swing with the big town NYC art crowd by displaying their wares on the bottle label, but man, that stuff is just an illusion.  That stuff is chatter-chatter blah blah. This grape, now, that’s some Zen Master reality.  This stuff makes you want to tear off your undershirt and sock yourself in the head and forget about the bourbon-aroonie.  Man, this juice makes you wanna go down that raw road and not stop until you get there.

Gargiulo Vineyard ‘Aprile Super’, Oakville, 2010

Napa sangiovese; always an interesting proposal, even when priced as a Super Tuscan.

Clipboard chaucerWhan that Aprile with his shoures soote
The Napa droghte hath perced to the roote,
And parch’d every vyne without licour,
Of which lasse engendred is dago flour;
Whan Poseidon eek with his yvele quake
Inspired dread in every copse and brake
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken sup,
Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up.

Chambolle-Musigny ‘Les Sentiers’ Groffier, 1999

james-joyceLes Sentiers is the northernmost Premier Cru of Chambolle-Musigny in the Cote de Nuits. Whereas the wines of Chambolle-Musigny are known for their delicacy, the terroir here is perhaps more closely resembles neighboring Morey-Saint-Denis, meaning a bigger, fuller body.

- How’s things? Have you any Burgundy?

- Tip top, let’s see.  I’ve a Chambolle-Musigny, goes well with sardines and Plumtree’s potted meat.

Deep colour here.  Violetred with flecks of purple. Tannic.  Pungent. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, O wonder!  Rains came. Down in the hollow playing a new game, laughing and a-running, hey, hey.

- Pour another, Davy.  I’m overcome thinking about making love in the green grass behind the stadium.

Davy Byrne said with tearwashed eyes:

- Not making love with me, I hope! Here’s another Burgundy.  Have some plovers and toast, too.

- Not you, indeed.  Give the devil his due, I’d rather eat some sick knuckly cud from the cobblestones than make love with you.  Not you, that girl from the mine with the transistor radio.

- Eyes brown?

- That’s the one.

No more said.  Silence easy.  Born again.  He drank Burgundy, prolonging in solemn echo the closes of the bar.

*The regularly scheduled program will return next week; same time, same channel.*

-

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Warren Raftshol: Peripheral Persistence

warrenWhenever I stop in to see old Warren Raftshol in Leelanau’s answer to Area 51, I’m sort of overwhelmed; I feel both wildly lonely and strangely optimistic. He hangs on inside his wayward depot despite the odds, and Warren—whose sculpted face is a Dorothea Lange wet dream—greets all comers, new and old, with a sort of fierce, fatalistic indifference.

Asked about his views about the changing face of Leelanau wine country, he offers exactly that, shrugging, “The wine business is pretty much a blur to me.”

grand-traverse-lighthouse-1915Such a response might be viewed by some scribes as interview-kryptonite, but not me—by golly, to me Warren Raftshol is the Grand Traverse lighthouse, still standing and always accounted for despite the ravages of time, the gales of November coming early or juggernaut technology.  Like the lighthouse, Warren Raftshol essentially serves the same function as he has always served; and, like visiting the lighthouse is accompanied by a certain wistful melancholy, a glance at Warren Raftshol’s secluded, ramshackle tasting room, where inside, unsold wine sits in cardboard cases and outside a stone silo slowly crumbles to dust, the experience is a snapshot of the flip-side of Leelanau’s emergence as an appellation worthy of notice.

Seated, far right.  Give 'em hell, Rudy.

Seated, far right. Give ‘em hell, Rudy.

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse has been operating since 1857, and although Warren’s tenure as a winemaker is less, I wouldn’t bet on it being too much less.  From what he can remember and from what I can glean from outside sources, the Raftshol family has been a fixture on the peninsula for many generations.  A page from the Sutton’s Bay High School Class of 1926 yearbook shows Rudolph Raftshol—Warren’s uncle—among fifteen graduating seniors; a 2014 edition of Leelanau Enterprise notes Olivia Raftshol—Warren’s niece—entering the Marines.  Within the archives of that same newspaper, Warren’s name keeps surfacing with a certain WTF? charm.  For example, in a February, 2012 column about Leelanau County’s ‘Odd and Quirky’, Warren is described as ‘a one-time write-in candidate for Leelanau County sheriff whose political views appear to come from somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.’  Yet another piece on medical marijuana that same year leads with, ‘Finding someone in Leelanau County who will admit publicly that they plan to vote “yes” on Proposal 1 in November is not an easy task,’—then goes on to quote the single yes-voter willing to go on record, Warren Raftshol.

Needless to say, he did not win the sheriff’s badge.  Nor a bong.

ClipboardStories abound about Warren’s eccentricities, and most of them are pretty quaint and pretty hilarious, but I won’t relate them.  Not because I don’t want to, but because the people who told me them don’t want me to—and I have to respect that.  See, around here, Warren Raftshol—if not exactly venerated—is treated like any Historical Marker.  Regardless of your opinion over what it represents, you don’t leave your cigarette butts on the front lawn.

What Warren Raftshol and his one-man wine show represents is Leelanau wine country as it was in the beginning, ain’t now, and likely will never be again.

warren and bottleLike many area winegrowers, the Raftshols began in the tart cherry business, souring on it in the ‘60s when prices dropped, finally tossing in the red-stained towel in the 1980s after Warren’s father passed away and the trees had outlived their productive cycle.  By that point, Warren had jobbed himself out as a pruner at Leelanau Wine Cellars in nearby Omena, and had developed a fascination for what grapes could do on land that had formerly been planted to montmorency and morello cherries.

Although today he expresses no interest in hybrids, in the early days of wine growing in the peninsula, the Leelanau Fruit Company of Sutton’s Bay was advising farmers who wanted to get into the nascent wine biz to go the safe route.

“The co-op was more cautious in those days,” Warren relates with a small sneer. “And farmers tended to do what the co-op told them.”  He cites the lead taken by the pioneers of the Leelanau wine community: “Bernie [Rink], Larry [Mawby] and Bruce [Simpson] all planted hybrids, so that what I did. I put in aurora and chelois; didn’t like the wine.  Those fields have since been grafted over to cabernet franc.”

In fact, according to former Raftshol winemaker Chris Guest, one of the props due Warren Raftshol is his dogged persistence of vinifera in the peninsula, particularly red grape varieties.

“Peninsula Cellars made a popular blend from Warren’s vineyards; Raftshol Red,” Guest says.  “A mix of everything, cab franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir.  That was not only one of the area’s first attempt to promote vineyard-specific bottlings, back when the industry was trying to gain a foothold, those vines were often the first indication to outsiders driving through—a few of ‘em lost trying to get to the casino—that the focus of the peninsula was shifting from cherries to grapes.”

By his own admission, Warren Raftshol can no longer afford a winemaker.  He also (proudly) insists that he stopped chaptalizing his wine in 2008 and one is forced to wonder if he simply can’t afford the sugar.  While true to variety, his wines are uniformly and sometimes painfully acidic—a teaspoon of sugar would have no doubt helped the cabernet go down.

winesAcidic wines, ramshackle winery, unkempt-looking vines, taciturn tasting room host, somewhat creepy photo of Jean Raftshol (1919-2001, Warren’s mother) on the label; you’d think this story is, to me, nothing but an endless pejorative.

Not so and not by a long shot.  When I stop by Raftshol Vineyards, I do it for the man, not the plan.  I do it because he is a reflection of his product: Thin, acidic, ramshackle and somewhat creepy—but, like the lonely lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula, outdated by modernity yet standing strong against opposing tides to mark the passage of Lake Michigan eliding into Grand Traverse Bay, Warren Raftshol remains as an outpost of originality in a sea of increasingly gentrified business models.

 

 

Posted in Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan, MIDWEST | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

White Chicks Are Hotter Than Black Chicks

badOr is it the other way around?  I really don’t care; I am just trying to get your attention, fill column inches, make deadlines and stir up a little bad blood, because you know what?  I’m a bad blood stirrer-upper.

My only stipulation is that there has to be a valid camp of supporters on each side of the Caucasoid vs. Negrasoid smoke factor—otherwise, any attempt to validate feminoid color/no color heat is moot.

If I pursued it anyway, I would not only be a spoon-savvy mixologist specializing in hematology, I would be a twat.

No man is an Isle.  Except Ray.

No man is an Isle. Except Ray.

You know, reminsicent of the nonsensical article written by Ray Isle, wine editor at Food & Wine, former editor of Wine & Spirits Magazine and heir apparent to the editorship of Make It Up As I Go Along Quarterly.

The article ‘Wine’s Nastiest Feud’ appeared in Food & Wine’s ‘Inspiration Served Daily’ blog on September 19, and—much as savage politicians use a historically-naïve narrative of Sunni/Shi’a infighting to start wars—Isle appears to have pulled a wine feud out of enological thin air.  According to him, as we speak, there is a uncivil war raging in winetopia among people who like really big blowsy wines and people who don’t.  He posits that the leader of the first faction is Robert Parker Jr., quoting some context-free Parker wisdom pearls dissing namby-pamby wines, and in the other corner, he high-fives Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and Eric Asimov of The New York Times.

Prefers Caymus. Will kill you if you disagree.

Prefers Caymus. Will kill you if you don’t.

To hear Ray Isle tell it, the wine world has been rent asunder by sectarian conflict whose combatants have taken to regarding each other with ‘violent absolutism’ including calling each other names like ‘coward’ and ‘charlatan’ and ‘jihadist’—evidently, the feudistas’s equivalent of suicide bombing.  It is, in his estimation, a pitched battled filled with vitriol and grandstanding, although—like a kid watching two bugs in a mason jar—he finds it ‘interesting’.

What I find interesting is that Isle’s concept is so detached from reality as to qualify as today’s source of the very inspiration that F&W  claims, in fact, to serve daily.

‘Titillation Perved Daily’

Clipboard keiraAlthough using extremist examples to prove a point breaks a cardinal commandment of syllogism, if Isle can do it, so can I.  In my major premise, I declared that white chicks are hotter than black chicks; in my minor premise, I subliminally projected a photograph of a) Keira Knightley and b) Whoopi Goldberg into your mind via the magic of Svengaliism, and thus, you reached a logica nova conclusion in support of my thesis.  If big words are not your forte, a Venn diagram may help:

  1. White chicks are hotter than black chicks. (MaP)
  2. Keira is a white chick and Whoopi is a black chick. (MiP)
  3. All Greeks are mortal. (SaP)

If there is any glaring syllogistic error in this archetype, it is known as the fallacy of exclusive premises.  Now class, whereas I realize that this is boring, I challenge you stick around and enjoy the remarkable experience of becoming both smarter and stupider simultaneously.

In simplistic terms that even a Special Ed elementary schooler can understand, the conclusion implicates all members of the major term (P — meaning the proposition is accurate; however, the major premise does not account for them all (i.e., P is either an affirmative predicate or a particular subject there).

Got it?  Good. So, to reduce Ray Isle’s argument to another Venn diagram, this time a Barbari (AAI-1), we have:

  1. Robert Parker and Eric Asimov are wine lovers. (MaP)
  2. Parker and Asimov are at each other’s throats over different wine styles. (MiP)
  3. All wine lovers are at each other’s throats over different wine styles. (SaP)

Clipboard parkerThe fallacy is glaring.  In the first place, the example Isle gives is Caymus Special Selection Cab, 2010, which Parker rated at 98.  He follows up with a mysterious ‘tasting’ in which sommeliers found the same wine appalling.  Considering that the 126 reviews found of this wine on Cellar Tracker thought it rated, on average, 94.5 points, the conclusion Isle should have reached (using elementary logic) is not that there is a huge schism between wine experts on the quality of Caymus Special Selection, but rather, there is a schism among sommeliers who may not know what the word ‘appalling’ means.  That would be worth a column; fo’ shizzle, mah nizzle.

Blind Melon Chitlins begs to disagree.

Blind Melon Chitlins begs to disagree.

Further, I can find no evidence that any reputable wine pro anywhere seriously discounts what Isle defines as ‘lean and racy wine’ as being bad wine; certainly none whom the scarehead-loving editor claim despises light, balanced wine with ‘knives-out absolutism’.  He has apparently stumbled across a handful of online disputes, but fails to either link them nor state the qualifications of disputer or disputee.  Frankly, I guarantee you that I can find internet threads that insist that Whoopi Goldberg in sweatpants is better fap material that Keira Knightley topless in The Hole; in fact, one blog come instantly to mind: Blind Melon Chitlins’.

So, taking deductive reasoning off the shelf once again, we find ourselves staring squarely down the maw of a Darapti (AAI-3):

  1. Ray Isle has to write something inspiring about wine daily. (MaP)
  2. There are not enough genuine topics related to wine that could possibly hold the interest of even the most dedicated wine geek on a daily basis, so he has to use hyperbolic headlines to sucker you into reading his silliness. (MaS)
  3. White chicks are hotter than black chicks. (SiP)

*

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2014/9/19/the-battle-for-your-wines-soul

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Primitivo: A Gentle Giant

Having lived through the zinfandel vetting process, I can say unequivocally that I like some of the a.k.a.’s better than others, and maybe primitivo best of all.

A bag o' zin for God.

A bag o’ zin for God.

Back in primitive times—that is to say, prior to the advent of genetic fingerprinting—zinfandel was considered an Old Glory grape, as American as tornados, Westboro Baptists and lynch mobs.  We hoarded the bragging rights, even if we didn’t particularly like the wine, snootily swearing that the grape was first domesticated by Spanish missionaries, even if we didn’t particularly like Spanish people or God.

Then in 1975, at the vanguard of the same technology that allows innocent people to be freed from prison after thirty years, a Ph.D candidate named Wade Wolfe used then vogue isozyme markers to show that zinfandel and primitivo di gioia—a grape grown predominately in Puglia, Italy’s ‘heel’—were the same.  Dr. Wolfe, incidentally, is still making marvelous, off-center wines in Washington under the Thurston Wolfe label, including primitivo.

Plavac mali

Plavac mali

The following year, the plot thickened as it became clear that primitivo was a relatively recent arrival to the Puglian countryside, only tracing it’s Italianhood back to the 1870s; further analysis suggested that the grape might have originated in Croatia, where a Dalmatian variety called plavac mali stood out to U.S. plant pathologist Austin Goheen as a likely culprit.

As zinfandel/primitivo unmasked, plavac won the early support of Croatian-born/Napa wine legend Mike Grgich, who thought the rich, early-ripening plavac grape produced a wine that was close enough for Department of Agriculture work.  At the time, he was quoted in Croat wine mag Svijet u èačiš as saying, “Plavac mali, which our ampelographers say is an autochtonous cultivar, is for sure the same cultivar as one abroad very famous as zinfandel.”

Mike Grgich holding a glass of something you can't pronounce.

Mike Grgich holding a glass of something you can’t pronounce.

He then formed a zin-centric group called ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) which secured funding for an extensive series of DNA tests, ultimately, by the turn of the 21st century, concluding that plavac mali was a scion grape—a cross between local Croatian parents crljenak kaštelanski and dobričić.

Indeed, based on more exacting genetic evidence, crljenak kaštelanski turned out to be zinfandel wrapped up in a bunch of diacritical letters and unpronounceable consonants.

Now, I don’t mind sharing the fact that this gives me a duodenum’s worth of agita.  To me, zinfandel being primitivo was as far as these fancy-degreed poindexters—who should be spending public funds finding cures for hiccups and hangovers—needed to take it.  In my mind’s eye, ‘primitivo’ conjures up an image of Raquel Welch in ‘One Million Years B.C.’; a churning melon-breasted urn of burning prehistoric oomph wrapped up in savage, seam-busting sensuality.

‘Crljenak kaštelanski’ is thick-thighed Olga with rolled-up bog pants and a pitchfork full of stank.

Stop ruining everything, Jancis.

Stop ruining everything, Jancis.

And then, along comes Jancis ‘Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone’ Robinson, who in 2012 relied upon even more recent research and declared that zinfandel’s official name should be ‘tribidrag’, which—if such a thing were possible—is even worse.  A tribidrag isn’t even a human being; it’s a furry, galumphing, phantasmagorical and decisively non-sexy beast that brilligs beneath the slithy Tum-Tum tree trove.

How do you say ‘yuck’ in Croatian?

Enter The Flagon

'One Million Boners B.C.' (before color)

‘One Million Boners B.C.’ (before color)

Anyway, for the scope of this scribble, I’m not looking farther than Tormaresca Primitivo 2012 to put my stake in the ground. This wine is lush and elegant, less like Raquel Welch and more like Sofia Loren, who grew up on the Italian coast opposite the town of Bari from whence this wine hails.  And not only from Bari, but specifically from the vineyard at Minervino Murge which—speaking of vaporous Victorian visions—sounds like a character from Dickens.  The estate is owned by the hallowed Antinori clan, part of the considerable investment they made in Puglia in 1998, including corporate offices in Bari and two vineyards totaling 1500 acres.

One of the charms of California zinfandel has been its stylistic versatility; it is vinified as a simple, picnic/barbecue wine (Cline), a brooding, miles-deep old vine wine (Ravenswood); port-like (Rosenblum), and, of course, the ubiquitous white zinfandel which outsells the others many times over, and despite the reputation that precedes it, can be extremely suppable (Turley).

Tormaresca_Primitivo_bottle_shot_hi-resPrimitivo, for the most part, has not yet seen the need for mass marketing, and has been a consistent workhouse in southern Italy, often grown to shore up thinner reds from northern Italy—much as Lodi zin has enriched Napa cabs in lean years.  But it rarely is vinified in the blockbuster, big-tannin, super-ripe style for which California zins often strive—its palate pallet contains less of the wild, bramble fruits of the New World than the clean berry and licorice flavors of the Old Word spiced up with nutmeg, clove and cedar.

The Tormaresca Primitivo I tasted added a different dimension; one that I cannot recall noting previously in this grape’s many faces—a freshness that brought to mind the grapey immediacy of carbonic maceration.  The tannins are softer, rounder and more integrated than in blustery, toasty, compote-flavored zins from Dry Creek and stronger than in wines typically fermented using the whole-grape technique; the flavors are bright red; currant, cherry and raspberry.

Had I blind-tasted this wine, I would have noted (with some confidence) that it was a cru Beaujolais.

At around $13 a bottle, it’s priced more like a bouncy Beaujolais Nouveau, however—most Puglian primitivos are priced to move.  This one great candidate not only for a rose-by-any-other-name zin/primitivo/crljenak kaštelanski/ taste-off, but as a new face for an old favorite.

"Beware the tribidrag my son."

“Beware the tribidrag my son.”

At last check, despite the apparent identicality of the variety, only seven hundred acres of California are planted to ‘primitivo’ compared to nearly fifty thousand to ‘zinfandel’.  This is in part because the TTB recognizes both grapes, but as unique, non-synonymous entities, so producers must decide which name they are going to run with.  The balance is swayed heavily in favor of California’s coddled cub.

See, what primitivo needs is a PR champion to work a nation-wide campaign to bring this grape into prominence; something cute and catchy from an old-school Mad Man.  What about moi?

Two words for you, farmers, wineries, vintners, owners, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and marketing whizbangs; a freebie from Uncle Chris:

White Primitivo.

Posted in BY VARIETAL, ITALY, Zinfandel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gérard Depardieuchebag

First off, I don’t buy it: The bizarre claim made by French luné-toon Gérard Depardieu about drinking fourteen bottles of wine a day has been greeted with a combination of awe, back-slapping, high-fiving, hero worship and a little bit of bemused head-shaking, but not with the only appropriate reaction:

Utter disregard.

dep putin

“How are you, my little amuse-bouche? Togezzer ve shall kill ze lions, no?”

That Depardieu is psychotic is not in question:  The publicity hawg  superstar of such recent blockbusters as Zaitsev+1 and Sport bez granits and such timeless classics as Get Out Your Handkerchiefs and Je t’aime… moi non plus (none of which received so much as a baby toe’s-up from  Siskell or Ebert) lost his tenuous grip on reality two years ago when he sought—and gained—Russian citizenship.

Showing up in Moscow worked out about as well for him as it did for his compatriot Napoleon, and he has been roundly mocked for his unwavering support of puny, punk, pink-pated, pusillanimous Putin.  Prior to that, he’d moved just across the border to Belgium to avoid paying wealth tax because the French government levies 75% on personal income over a million euros.  But before Depardieu’s tax dodge makes you nod with quick-witted civil disobedient approval, consider that the Flemish tax rate is 50%; had he moved to Andorra, which is just as close to France, he’d have paid under 10%.

Before and after 8000 win calories a day.

Before and after 8600 wine calories per day.

Although it must be said—somewhere among these chic zip code changes he must have moved to London and converted his body to £.

In any case, as someone who knows even less about cinema than I do about wine—but still wear my credential-free critic’s badge proudly—I must say that the charm of this Yukon Gold-schnozzed beached whale-a-rilla totally eludes me.  In every English-language film I’ve seen him in (Green Card, Hamlet, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi) his accent sounded ludicrous and his acting looked painful and forced.  Maybe he does better in the langue maternelle—dunno, I don’t speak it—but from what I’ve seen, he ain’t no Jean-Paul Belmondo.  Now, granted, he’s not the first hallowed, aging, self-obsessed actor to let himself go in terms of physique and psyche, but at least Brando could claim Apocalypse Now on his late-life resume.

Playing a cartoon character in Astérix—France’s answer to Scooby-Doo 2—just doesn’t cut it.

Obelix Gerard DepardieuBut that’s just my IMHO IMDb take, and on a subject where my expertise is probably a french fry or two short of a Happy Meal.  The thrust of this piece, of course is the half-baked claim of a fully-baked flake with a double-baked potato for a nose.

And when it comes to the brobdingnagian consumption of ethanol—alas—I have a shelf-full of Oscars.

Before my ‘Check Liver’ light came on a few years ago, I drank with the sort of abandon usually reserved for abandoned men inside abandoned buildings—a fifth of vodka a day, or its equivalent, was more my norm than my exception. That’s a statistic of which I’m not particularly proud, and in fact, having undergone a non-voluntary blood test in an ER ordered by some cop (not driving related, I promise) a number of years ago, I came out with a score so high that the attending physician re-checked my vitals to make sure I wasn’t dead.  Despite the buzz, I recall the whole occasion with dreadful, crystal clarity, including the bottle of wine I opened within ten minutes of getting out of the hospital.  That’s some pretty shameful, outta-control shit; I know.

In any case, that kind of lifestyle does not tend to lend itself to productivity, longevity or conviviality and I kept it up as long as I could live with myself, and once I grokked that in the best of scenarios I wouldn’t be living with myself for long, I stopped.

Not Pinocchio, but close enough for Equity work.

Not Pinocchio, but close enough for Equity work.

Now, I may not weigh as much as Jerry Depardieu, and neither may my Ford 150 with an extended cab full of abandoned men, but the idea that anyone actually drinks 14 bottles of wine in one day—let alone every day—defies reason.

And his insistence that he remains a functional lush nonetheless is the sort of delusion that pretty much pervades the conversations of most final-stage alcoholics.

Instead of calling him out on it, however, the prevailing attitude I’ve seen so far has been, for the most part, people claiming to be impressed.

Ha!  Let’s look at the science, then.  Figure at a modest 12% alcohol-by-volume, a bottle of wine contains a little over three ounces of pure, undiluted ethanol.  Since even a Bo and Luke still can’t produce moonshine that pure, nobody—not even hardcore career drunks—drinks undiluted booze.  At eighty proof, as most liquor is sold, the amount of ethanol in a bottle of wine equates to four-and-a-half shots.

A fifth of booze contains about seventeen 1½ oz shots; so, if Mr. Potato Nose is drinking fourteen bottles of wine per day, he is downing the equivalent of… wait for it… nearly four bottles of standard-strength liquor a day, every day, and not getting noticeably drunk.  Or pronounceably dead.

And, please note that this does not even take into consideration that at  around 123 calories per glass of wine, that’s over 8600 calories per day, and before Happy Meals.

Sorry, kids; I call bullshit.

But, hey; the art of acting is the not only the art of bullshitting, but (to do it credibly) the art of believing your own bullshit.

Maybe Gérard Depardieu does exactly that.  Now, what’s your excuse?

Clipboard monsterAlthough the callboards at most equity gigs post rules prohibiting the use of alcohol on the set, I suppose if I can sober up, so can Russia’s favorite citizen, Mr. Spudnik.  In fact, I’m recommending him for a role in the next Mystery, Inc. sequel, Scooby Depardieu 3: Curse Of The Potato-Nosed Monster.

I’m thinking that underneath the monster mask we’re gonna find a fat, fuddled, fustian French fibster.

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Inside The Scatterbrain Of Sean O’Keefe

(Part One of a two part interview with Chateau Grand Traverse VP Sean O’Keefe; both parts appear in Heart & Soil: Grand Traverse Wine Country, set for release Dec., 2014)

Sean O'Keefe

Sean O’Keefe

‘Scatterbrain’ is his word, not mine.  Actually, Sean O’Keefe is one of the most singularly focused winemakers in the twin peninsulas.  Most vintners up here like to say Trockenbeerenauslese; Sean learns the entire German language.  Most Michigan riesling producers read books on Rhein grape cultivation; Sean moves to Germany and lives it.  Ask a riesling fanatic to list their favorite producers, no problem—but Sean actually tracks them down at the source and asks them questions.

On the other hand—to Sean’s scatterbrain point—when I finally caught up with him, it was after two failed attempts earlier in the summer, one in which he forgot he had other things going on and another when he simply forgot to show up.  Even this time, he forgot that he only had an hour before the babysitter had to boogie.

Chef Gabe forgets to tip his hat.

Chef Gabe forgets to tip his hat.

No worries, Scatterbrain—I don’t have a problem cooling my heels inside Traverse City’s insta-heirloom Franklin restaurant with its salvaged, century-old back bar from a honky-tonk in Marquette, where Chefs Myles Anton and Gabe Rodriguez have managed a fanciful, phenomenal fusion of Northern Michigan standbys and global culinary sensibility, and attention to detail is so precise that owner Paul stopped by the table to remind us to tip, presumably because we were taking up table space with a wine tasting and not actually ordering dinner.

Somehow, the etiquette cops among you will be relieved to note, Sean and I managed a fusion of our twin scatterbrain-power and global weren’t-born-yesterday sensibility and remembered to tip.

whackamoleThe table space and view overlooking bustling Front Street in downtown Traverse City was fine; but not so fine as a dive into Sean’s private stock of rieslings while playing Whack-A-Mole with Sean’s rapid-fire delivery, scrawling notes so fast that half of what I write is probably wrong anyway.

In any case, from what I can gather, Sean—who grew up in a communal  wine swell bigger than Grand Traverse Bay—did not begin his winemaking career intending to be a winemaker.  Three reasons for that: First, his father Ed O’Keefe (founder of Chateau Grand Traverse and Old Mission wine in general) already had a winemaker in German-born Bernd Croissant; second, the possibility that Ed, dealing with the economy of the late Eighties might decide to sell the winery was very real; and third, he sort of preferred beer anyway.

pfleger bottleBut in the early nineties, as Michigan was beginning to find its stride with riesling, Ed opted to keep and grow the business, and as such, he convinced his number-two son (firstborn Ed Jr. wears the title CGT President) to travel to Pfalz for some formal wine training.  There, Sean apprenticed at Weingut Jakob Pfleger while studying viticulture at the nearby wine school in Neustadt, and from there, to the wine college in Geisenheim.

It was an unexpected awakening for Sean, and, in fact, altered the trajectory of his future.

A New Lese on Life

“German wine had been in the doldrums before reunification,” he posits.  “Pretty much, only those in the industry knew who were making the good wines, so when I went, I was able to cherry pick top estates—Georg Breuer, Johannes Leitz, Helmut Dönhoff to see exactly what they were doing to buck the trend toward bulk-produced, tutti-frutti German wines.”

'We have seen the enemy, and he's a she.'

‘We have seen the enemy, and he’s a she.’

The Seventies and Eighties saw a huge market for these wines, with Blue Nun and Black Tower (which weren’t even made from riesling) dominating the market and selling over two million cases of semi-sweet honeybear drool in the United States every year.

In the meantime, the improvements being made at the Weingut level were largely behind the scenes and employed by winemakers not interested in international mass-marketing.  They were moving away from estery yeasts that produced giant, consumer-pandering aromatics (often at the expense of depth) and had begun to pay requisite attention to the can’t-neglect details needed in chilly Teutonic wineland to produce top-shelf riesling.  In Pfalz—the world’s largest riesling-growing region—this movement was gathering steam just as Sean was arriving, and he saw immediately that the techniques and upgraded mindsets transforming the makers of elite, terroir-driven rieslings could be lessons-learned for Northern Michigan.

“The Germans have lapped everyone else so many times that I wanted to be on the ground floor of this new wave of riesling production.  When I got into the wine business, Northern Michigan had thirty years of experience with riesling.  German traditions go back five centuries.”

Sean describes his winemaking as ‘intuitive’—(“I spent biochemistry class staring out the window”)—and realistic: “Thanks to climate change, Germany is dealing with a whole new set of agricultural parameters.  They no longer have anything that we’d consider a ‘Michigan winter’.  A bad year for them is a good year for us.”

Pondering in ponderous impenetrables at The Franklin

Pondering in ponderous impenetrables at The Franklin

A new generation of climate combined with a new generation of savvy, resulting in revolutionary improvements he saw first-hand while working Pfleger fields and cellars.  When he returned to Old Mission Peninsula. Sean had banked a keen respect for two seemingly opposing approaches (the balance between which was key):  Knowing when to grab the rudder and when to leave nature to take her course.

It turned out that when you followed those precepts, the riesling that came out the business end of the tank was different than a lot of the rieslings Michigan was used to producing—and different from what Michiganders were used to drinking.

“There is a longer time when the fermented wine is left on the lees—first rack’s in January, and this adds a certain savoriness to riesling.  It tends to show more layers and equilibrium and I believe it ages better.”

pfleger bottleAlso, slightly higher pH makes them more susceptible to bacteria, and occasionally, malolactic fermentation kicks in.  To many riesling producers in the United States, malo is viewed as the kiss of death, but the truth is, not everyone insists on a razor-sharp riesling, and some sniffers find the slightly buttery aromas behind the classic green apple, citrus and mineral nose to be an appealing balance.  In Alsace, for example, primo producer Zind-Humbrecht takes a somewhat less intransigent view of malolactic fermentation (during which sharp malic acid is transformed to softer lactic acid), allowing the wine to do what it needs to do.  Evidence is their ‘Calcaire’—a dry malo-riesling possessed of a startling and delightful velvety texture.

Oenococcus oeni

Oenococcus oeni

With Sean, any malo is rare and accidental, but neither does he go to chemical means to prevent it—for the most part, the spontaneous onset of malo (rather than the purposeful introduction of Oenococcus oeni cultures) tends to happen only in particularly warm vintages where fruit comes in at pH values above 3.2, and Old Mission Peninsula doesn’t see too much of that.

The wines for which Sean O’Keefe has earned the respect of such riesling groupies as Stuart Pigott and everywine pro Jancis Robinson originated as experimental batches he launched upon his return from the Pfalz.

‘Whole Cluster’ Riesling was one of these dress rehearsals, and it became such a long-run hit that Sean occasionally regrets locking himself into the name.

Anatomy of a grape

Anatomy of a grape

When employed in white white production, whole cluster pressing is used to minimize the astringency that sometimes leaves a slightly unpleasant bitterness at the end of a wine—this is in part the result of mechanical destemming, which can actually add more woodiness to the wine by the rather aggressive crushing of the stems.  With whole cluster pressing, intact bunches are slowly (key word) pressed to extract grape juice, but not stem juice.  As the theory goes, by pressing whole clusters in measured, but gentle increments, the berries tend to rupture at the grape end opposite the pedicle (cap stem) and release juice from various physiological zones at different times, and thus, can be controlled.  Rarely are the proanthocyanidins in grape stems, seeds and skins detectable in wines which have been whole-cluster pressed.

whole cluster bottleThat’s the laws of physics and the science of biology; organoleptics tell their own story.  Sean’s Whole Cluster Riesling 2012 fulfills both the promise and the premise—it is soft and supple without any pithy edges; the super-perfumes of other upstate wines are traded for deep scents of citrus, stone and rich, almost creamy peach notes.  It is a beautifully structured, many-layered wine and very Prädikatsweiny in an (ironically) dry, but honeyed and caramelized sugar way.

Lot 49 is another of Sean’s brain children; a subset, he says, of Whole Cluster.  From a new, west-facing Old Mission vineyard situated on what geologists refer to as a ‘drumlin’, the vines undergo three separate ‘sweeps’; about a quarter is picked early, when acids are barbaric, most is picked around the third week of October when the Brix has risen to the low twenties.  Then, a third pass over the vineyard is undertaken in November, when a touch of botrytis may be present. The acidic reserve takes on the concentrated syrup of the late harvest and enjoy, along with the middle three quarters, a long, slow fermentation with plenty of yeast lees contact, adding savory complexity to the wine—actually made from a French riesling clone, Entav-Inra #49.

lot 49“Riesling is no fool’s game,” Sean explains about Lot 49; “and my goal is always to unify the layers that develop at various stages of the process.  I use techniques I learned from my German compatriots, included a primary fermentation in  stainless steel, when most of the heat is generated, then a longer, slower hibernation in stücks.  These are German barrels, oak, oval in shape and holding 300 gallons, so that there is not a lot of contact between wine and wood.  This leaves a riesling which has sacrificed a little fruit for structure; it may taste a bit restrained to people used to the juicy-fruit wines you can smell across the room, but a lot of these have their acid bones sticking out—a lot of them come across as margarita mix masquerading as riesling.”

Indeed, Sean avoids all temptation to produce what he refers to as ‘catalogue wines’—wines made from designer yeasts promising specific estery results, flavor-enhancing enzymes, derivatives and fining agents.  He is absolutely in tune with his terroir—which is to say, he is honest about its limitations.  “In Michigan, grapes don’t always ripen uniformly; in 2009, our yields were barely able to skitter over the finish line.  We have narrow parameters and I prefer to work within those, and that means no chaptalizing (adding sugar) and not trying to produce quick wines with a lot of up-front, simplistic appeal on release, but which quickly become vampires in the sunlight and die quick deaths.  My wines are made to age with grace and become more complex—not less complex—in the years after they are bottled.”

It can be a frustrating go, but it’s a struggle that all minimalist winemakers face, especially those in wine country where—as happened in the winter of 2013-2014—the lake effect fails as Lake Michigan freezes and a huge portion of the crop succumbs to winter kill.

Jancis with a glass of something rieslingy.

Jancis with a glass of something rieslingy.

But in the really fine years, the dividends of Sean O’Keefe’s level of dedication and integrity pay off.  Take 2010 for example, when all the je ne sais quoi combined with all the sais quoi and produced a wine so lovely that Jancis Robinson OBE, MW named it her February 10, 2012 Wine Of The Week.

Since I dig her writing chops, I’ll quote them verbatim: “I loved the energy in this wine, the slightly funky but extremely interesting nose and the fact that it tasted bone dry (total acidity is 7.8 g/l, pH 3.25) but had such an impressive array of wild-flower aromas. I gave it 17 points out of 20 for what it is worth and would drink it with great pleasure from now for the next five years.”

The only downside is that only 130 cases were made, so if you want some, you may be hard pressed (wine pun) to find any, not at any price—not even at trendy The Franklin, no matter how much you tip.

Posted in Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula, Riesling | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Be Or Tannat To Be: That’s The Question

Tannat is a wine geek’s grape, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.  Like cult films or cult bands, tannat is often dug for its brooding obscurity or transgressive potency more than for any sense of down-home approachableness.

Tannat

Tannat

Nonetheless, like Eraserhead or Lydia Lunch, tannat has a savagely loyal fan base. These include Jason Haas of Tablas Creek, who began to grow tannat in Paso Robles before the BATF even recognized it as a varietal; it includes the whole country of Uruguay, where it is considered the ‘signature grape’ (often under the name harriague); and there’s Bending Branch Winery, near Comfort, Texas, where they produce several wines outside of most people’s comfort zones, including picpoul, souzão, vermentino… and tannat.

And of course, there is Madiran.

Madiran

Madiran

In the shadow of the Pyrenees Mountains, fifty miles from the sea in the Southwestern France appellation of Madiran lies the European epicenter for tannat, a grape so hermetic, dense and implacable that it is often ‘softened’ with cabernet sauvignon.  Soils here are pebble, clay and limestone, and combined with the aggressive summer climate and ocean breezes—and especially, long, dry, sunny autumn ripening hang-times tempered with Pyrenees-rainshadow Foehn winds—make it an ideal climate for hefty red wines.

Which is, in fact, all that Madiran produces.

As a wine—as the name suggests—these reds, all made with some tannat and some made with all tannat, can be hugely puckery and nearly undrinkably astringent when they are young.  Bacchus or Dionysus or the man who changed water to wine or whoever is in charge of this stuff blessed tannat with a double-whammy of bitter polyphenolic compounds: Extra skin and extra seeds.  Most wine grapes have two or three seeds; tannat has five.  Unusually thick-skinned as well, wines from tannat have traditionally required long cellar aging to tame the most tenacious of these aggressors which in young wines can shock the palate with a sensation akin to sucking down puréed boat oar.

Patrick Ducournau

Patrick Ducournau

In 1990, following a technology innovation by Madiran vigneron Patrick Ducournau, certain winemakers realized that by the judicious, mechanical addition of tiny bubbles of oxygen during élevage—a wine’s pre-bottling ‘adolescence’ during which much of its character is formed—the harsh tannins are level-set much earlier than they would be sitting in a cellar.  Called ‘micro-ox’ in the industry, it is common practice throughout much of the wine world—Southern France especially—but it is not widely discussed, possibly because any artificial manipulation of a wine is viewed as marketing kryptonite.

Other wine producers like the iconic Alain Brumont of Château Montus don’t mention it because they don’t ‘resort to it’, at least according to Robert Parker.  Brumont—whose own remarkable story, rising from a field worker on his father’s estate to dominate the Madiran wine scene—is fodder for another column.  Today’s is how pure Madiran tannat, as ferocious and untamable as Brumont himself, handles itself over a decade or more of micro-ox-free aging.

I met with Vincent Thebaud, Vignobles Brumont’s export manager, and he walked me through a vertical of Château Montus ‘La Tyre’—the estate’s 25-acre vineyard planted on one of the appellation’s twenty-two hillsides.  Says Brumont, “The best terroir for making high-quality tannat wines is high up the slopes.”

la tyre vineyardLa Tyre, which Brumont purchased in 1988, produced its first single-vineyard wine in 2000, and so convinced was Brumont of the power and quality of this un-micro-oxed 100% tannat that a few years later he gathered a bunch of pros at Montus for a blind tasting, putting La Tyre 2002 in the ring with same-vintage champions from Château Cheval Blanc, Penfolds Grange, Ridge Monte Bello, Petrus and Mouton Rothschild.

…It won.

Alain Brumont

Alain Brumont

So remarkable (and true) is that often-reported statement that I—being a cynical sonuvabitch—figured there had to be a disclaimer involved.  And there is.  Performed by 60 independent ‘wine enthusiasts’ and supervised by ‘a famous wine critic’, the Rendezvous des Icônes is held yearly at Brumont, and the 2007 competition (the only one that Madarinophiles seem to mention) is also the only one where La Tyre won.

But, you see, Madiran is frequently a ‘disclaimer’ wine—‘it needs a food accompaniment’, ‘it needs cellar time’; ‘you to ‘understand’ the grape to appreciate the wine’.  For the most part, to me, this is like saying The Grateful Dead is a good band as long as you smoke a lot of dope.  And, the fact is, just because you have to understand a wine to like it does not mean that you will like it once you understand it.  For the most part, I prefer my wine clause-free.

L. to R.: Dan Glisky, Vincent Thebaud, Elie Boudt

L. to R.: Dan Glisky, Vincent Thebaud, Elie Boudt

In any case, the prize-winning 2002 was not among the vertical array presented by Vincent, nor was the original eye-opening vintage 2000.  Nor 2005; in fact, the vintages offered were, with the exception of 2009 (far too young to drink) less-than-stellar, and so my assessment of how disclaimer-laden Madiran tannins metamorphose comes with a disclaimer of its own.

I have included Vincent Thebaud’s comments with my own along with a couple other disclaimers, since we’re on a roll:

* Does Vincent know more about Madiran, tannat and Alain Brumont than I do?  Yes. 

* Do I work for Alain Brumont? No.

Ergo:

Tasting Notes:

Château Montus ‘La Tyre’, 2001:

2001Thebaud: Generous year with an explosion of fruits, very good concentration and great balance. Massive, ripe, with cassis, dark plum, dark cherry and meat flavors, this has big tannins as well, but they’re not out of bounds. Cardamom and exotic spice notes linger on the finish.

Kassel:  Blackberry, sharp acids and a heavy dose of popsicle stick beneath the berries—you can actually trace the tannins creeping underneath your upper lip.  Only the winemaker can judge what this wine will do in another five years, or maybe even he can’t say for sure, but I sense that the fruit here is heading to the exit faster than the chewiness.

Château Montus ‘La Tyre’, 2003:

Thebaud: A heat wave in Europe produced a very ripe harvest and thanks to the natural acidity of the tannat grape, the wines are perfectly balanced. Savory, evolved flavors of dried tobacco leaf, leather and spice; the wine has aged gracefully but is still full of life.

Kassel: A far more integrated wood and fruit equilibrium; the tannins are big, but settled in among a juicy, rustic collection of wild berry flavors, making them accessible.  Nice, clean tobacco notes fills the mid-palate and softer, but still dominate wood at the end.

Château Montus ‘La Tyre’, 2006:

bottlesThebaud: Weather caused less concentration in the grapes, but wine is very fruity and fresh. Lighter, juicy and lovely acidity with plush, elegant flavors of dark plum, kirsch, and Asian spice. The long finish is powered by dark chocolate and cream notes with medium-grained tannins.

Kassel:  Multi-layered, but these present themselves as strata and have not yet blended (if they ever will); sharp cranberry acids, chocolate-covered cherries standing out and a long wooden plank to walk at the end.  An intriguing wine though; would be curious to see where it ends up by the time, say, the next World Cup rolls around.

Château Montus ‘La Tyre’, 2007:

Thebaud: Complicated vintage, colder year, a real vintage for winemakers. Hard work in the vineyards and in the cellar. Quite minerally with a nice acidity and good tannins. Deep black cherry and red and black fruit compote; intense spicy notes and some swirls of smoke.

Kassel: Noting an almost cedar-flavored spice behind a creamy, black currant nose; huge fruit in the mouth, bright cranberry and morello cherry, a pleasant earthy crunchiness and black pepper notes, but as expected, again the tannins are serious and brutally self-confident.

singleChâteau Montus ‘La Tyre’, 2008:

Thebaud: Deep wine with ambition, aging slowly with a measured extraction. Freshness of fruit, but slender and racy for a Madiran.  Promises a great future, though.

Kassel:  Explosive, young and concentrated; the chocolate is huddled beneath a pronounced cherry tartness; a sharp, gunflint style of forwardness lightens the big woody backbone.

Château Montus ‘La Tyre’, 2009:

Thebaud: Great vintage, rich, concentrated, very ripe. Wide range of red fruits, black. Strong notes of black pepper, pulling notes of Mint, Eucalyptus. Precision of the tannins, aromatically extraverted, express has a rare personality, worthy of the greatest.

Kassel: By far the star of the show, with great fruit extraction; wet and sappy aromatics with pomegranate, cherry, tobacco leaf and a wonderful undertone of herbs and licorice.  So young, though, that the lip pucker is instinctive and immediate; I can’t imagine this wine being an enjoyable stand-alone beverage for several years yet.

Conclusions?

These wines are not merely Madiran wines, they are totemically, unapologetically, comprehensively Madiran wines; they make no pretense to please the palates of the epicene gentry—they are rustic, bombastic wines for a complex, but solidly countryside mentality.  They take no prisoners, but if they make friends, they remain friends for the long haul.

Which is a good thing, because most of them will be hanging around the basement awhile before they are civil enough to be introduced to the upstairs gang.

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