For a wine person, I spend more time mocking wine conventions than I do attending them, but one of life’s primary sanity lessons is that sarcasm is free while a lecture on whether or not to de-stem grapes prior to crushing costs $115.
That riveting conundrum will be addressed next week in Houston at the ‘In Pursuit of Balance’ festival, which co-founder Jasmine Hirsch describes in terms purloined from those Close Encounters masses huddled beneath Devil’s Tower:
“We are a gathering of believers.”
What ‘In Pursuit of Balance’ and its 33 member wineries believe—other than the pursuit of selling expensive tickets and pissing off Robert Parker Jr.—is not hard to determine since they’ve issued a Unabomber-like manifesto. In brief, IPOB (as they prefer to be known) maintains that ‘balance’ is the foundation of fine wine and that California’s foray into the ocean of potables have produced too many big, full-bodied and high-alcohol entries at the expense of poise and finesse. Focusing on California Pinot noirs and Chardonnays, the group’s avowed purpose is not to await some mothership filled with skinny aliens who prefer Burgundy, but to ‘lay the groundwork for discussion’.
It’s not the mission I object to, of course, but the price tag. Thus, as IPOB wannabes, feel free to discuss balance on this site, free of charge, and if you need a photo of my house and two pounds of mashed potatoes to get you here, message me.
Putting the ‘Bee’ in Balance
In any case, discussions about balance come up frequently during wine tastings, and indeed, it’s sort of our Groupie Grail. When a single element in a wine overshadows the others (loudmouth acidity or vice-grip tannins, for example) the sensory experience is proportionately diminished. Balance has beginnings long before the grapes hit the crusher; ripeness of the fruit and concentration of the juice all play roles; chemical manipulation by winemakers may adjust some of the elements that are out of whack, but (like chaptalization) artificial addendums to correct natural flaws must always be viewed with a certain begrudging skepticism.
Tucking into a couple of wines from the Ribeiro region of Southern Galicia yesterday, I had sort of a eureka moment about the whole notion of balance. One thing I’ve noticed over the years, (and no doubt you have to) is that frequently, otherwise wonderful wines show a weighted dominance in either nose or palate. In other words, a wine which displays remarkably deep aromatic layers may show up somewhat one dimensional in the mouth, while a luscious mouthfeel may be restrained in the bouquet. Traditionally, I’ve attributed the phenomenon to bottle shock, wine served at the wrong temperature or wine that has been open too long or too briefly, but ultimately, all are excuses meant to cover a wine’s imbalance, which may or may not be innate. What this indicates is that whoever is responsible for serving a wine plays as a vital role in showcasing its proper profile as the winemaker.
And the reason this came up is that the wine, La Flor y La Abeja 2013 ($22)—an overwhelmingly approachable wine from Coto de Gomariz made with the local white varietal Treixadura—displayed a weight equilibrium between nose and tongue that proved noteworthy enough to drive an entire column.
All the other components in the wine happen to be in synch as well—the nose is filled with floral bravado, with peach and mint behind the brine scents that sometimes appears in coastal wines, reflected again in the lemony, peachy, mineral-rich palate.
For those unfamiliar with Ribeiro, it’s a tiny D.O. (11 square miles) in western Spain; it lies in a valley intersected by four rivers Miño, Arnoia, Avia and Barbantiño. The climate tends to be wet and humid, but the soils are primarily sandy and drain well; vines can be found on the valley floor and on slope-side terraces known as socalcos. Treixadura is primarily a blending grape, but when vinified alone displays a marvelous palette of fruit, flowers and stone.
If anything, the racy red-wine grape Sousón is even less known outside the appellation than Treixadura, and Coto de Gomariz vinifies a miniscule amount under the La Flor y La Abeja label. In it, bright cranberry flavors, black pepper, rhubarb and cassis play against the traction of tartness; there’s a palpable whiff of iodine in the bouquet, perhaps a ruby-red response to the brine scents in the white. Although not as massive as the white, winemaker Xosé Lois Sebio’s interpretation of Sousón (like his Treixadura) highlights the exotic subtleties that often appear in indigenous varietals, particularly in the Iberian peninsula.
Both are metaphorically perfect as Springtime sippers—blossom-fresh, cool and succulent, bright with promise. And in a column about balance, both are ideal accompaniments to the Equinox.
After seeing Flor, I was expecting a monograph on Sherry – but at least I was in the right country! The iPob’s are probably going to get some amount of ridicule, but as in oak in wine, the pendulum must swing sometimes to one extreme (high alcohol and high oak) before swinging back to the other (all-natural, all the time) before finally settling where it originally belongs – somewhere near the center!