Wine Review: Mainerdo Arneis “Maria Letizia” Langhe 2017


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Langhe-Doc-Arneis-Maria-LetiziaArneis is among the most underrated of white grapes. As the white wine that hails from the Piemonte regions that give us Barolo and Barbaresco, it is over shadowed by its celebrated red companion. But Arneis is capable of a range of expressions from dry and crisp to plump and juicy with distinctive aromas and satisfying aromatic intensity. This wine from the Mainerdo family—now in its third generation on the family’s farm—is pleasingly plump and richly evocative.

The aromas permeate the air space with ripe pear, hazelnut and a gorgeous floral/vanilla/honey scent.

it’s rich and round in the mouth, off dry, with persistent fruit power that glides into the upper register acquiring a tart mineral layer, regal in its pace and anchored firmly by the lush life of the soft, round midsection. The finish lingers, the fruit nestled in the folds of  enveloping acid lime, shifting and sighing but telling no secret.

Full bodied but not heavy, this is no nervous Nellie although there are some rhythmic pulses on the back end. From its elegance and poise a hypnotic dreaminess rises like a mirage, a match for some richly evocative ambient sounds from Ulrich Schnauss and a coconut infused cod stew.

Technical Notes: Aged on the lees in Tonneaux for about 6 months.

Score: 92

Price: $24 (Purchase Here)

Alc: 13.5%

Wine Drinkers are from Venus; Wine Tasters are from Mars


misunderstandingMany discussions about wine that appear in popular writing or in casual conversations fail to distinguish the practice of wine tasting from the activity of wine drinking.

Wine tasters bring at least a rudimentary knowledge of regions and varietals as well as some experience to their tasting practice. Wine tasters, even if they are novices, have made  a commitment to learning more about wine and have begun to reflect on their experiences and commit them to memory. They have learned some of the procedures used to maximize their ability to discern features of the wine and have begun to enter into conversations about wine, internalizing some of the vocabulary historically used to describe wine. For wine tasters, wine is no longer solely about immediate sensation; it is a practice that requires discipline and a variety of skills.

Wine drinkers, by contrast, bring none of this to their  experience. They seek immediate enjoyment only. There is of course nothing wrong with that but the experience of the wine is quite different for a taster vs. a drinker.

There can be some overlap. Wine tasters can sometimes relax their commitments and be wine drinkers. But the relationship is not symmetrical. Wine drinkers cannot be wine tasters unless they acquire the commitment of a taster and cannot discover the virtues of tasting until they do so.

It thus would not be surprising that the advice wine tasters give to wine drinkers is not helpful or that the activity of wine drinking seems unreflective and impoverished to wine tasters. Mutual incomprehension would seem to be baked in and there is probably not much to be done about it. Live and let live is the best attitude for both.

Fine Wine is a Fine Art


cezanne painting of wine bottleWinemaking is an art. Its production requires aesthetic sensibility and creativity.  It is an expressive medium expressing the character of the vineyard, region and vintage. It expresses the sensibility of the winemaker, the history and culture of the people who make it, and the vitality and creativity of nature. Wine has emotional resonance, symbolic and metaphorical meaning and narrative content. It is a collaboration between nature and culture and thus if you insist on putting it in a category, wine is a form of environmental art. Like music it creates bonds of community. Like painting and sculpture it expresses what the materials it is made of can do.

But one might grant all that but insist that, compared to painting or music, wine is trivial. I’ve heard such claims although when pressed the speaker can’t quite articulate why wine is trivial.

Wine has cultural significance. Many people devote their lives to making it or studying it. It is a central component in a proper meal that sustains life, family, and community. Its full appreciation requires substantial skill, experience and cognitive resources to grasp the significance of particular wines and how they fit into the wine world. Since the Ancient Greeks, many thoughtful people throughout history have considered wine an essential part of a life well lived. And it of course produces stunning, sometimes awe-inspiring sensory pleasure.

Granted, painting, music, and literature express truths about the human condition—war, peace, love, angst, the struggle for existence, etc. But wine expresses truths about our connection to nature, to the flux of variation and creative emergence, to geography, to home, and the joys and  importance of sensory experience. These are not trivial matters; they are at the foundation of the human condition.

There is no compelling argument that excludes wine from the realm of art.

Wine Review: Laurent Miquel Le Giant Languedoc 2016



le giantI picked up this Syrah/Grenache blend at Bevmo’s 5-cent sale because time was short,  I’m a sucker for the south of France, and was serving roast leg of lamb. Buy one bottle and get the second for 5 cents—of course the first bottle is marked up so you’re not getting two for the price of one. Sometimes it’s a good deal; sometimes not. At $25 for two bottles this was fine.

A distinct rosemary note (aka garrique)  pokes through the blueberry, cherry and  wet soil cementing its identity as a French Sud sun worshiper.

In the mouth, it is concentrated and juicy up front with good acidity. Alas the acidity clamps down on the fruit power at the back of the midpalate generating angular, tart pomegranate on the backend, but its quite refreshing and the sandy tannins are firm enough to keep the sour from running amok.

As with most inexpensive wines there is not much action on the palate except for that compression at the end of the midpalate but this is a solid, commercial wine. By the way it’s also sold as Pas de Geant (giant step in French)…. It looks to be the same wine and the pricing fluctuates wildly.

It cheerfully and concisely evokes the sunny mood you expect from the south of France. Restrained, earnestly pleasing, perky but plain, a worthy complement to the roast lamb as well as Vampire Weekend’s This Life.

Technical Notes: I doubt this sees a barrel and none is mentioned on the tech sheet.

Score: 88

Price: $25 for two bottles at Bevmo

Alc: 13.5%

Good News Monday



sales growthWhile much of the news about the coronavirus still looks grim, this post by Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank appeared in my newsfeed last night and gave me a bit of a lift. Rob has his finger on the financial pulse of the wine industry and he has some good news for when the lockdowns begin to lift.

Today, as you can see in the below chart, off-premise sales have exploded! Danny Brager of Nielsen calculates to replace the lost revenue from restaurant sales, corresponding alcohol sales in off-premise accounts have to increase by at least 20%.
Looking at the chart you can see wine sales increased by 29%. Add online sales to that and we appear to be back to around 10% growth rate in wine sales, at least for the present!

People are eating at home and apparently are getting reacquainted with the joys of wine at the dinner table, without the markups that restaurants charged.

McMillan thinks that even after restaurants begin to open up, this trend towards more eating at home with wine on the table is likely to continue. The challenges faced by restaurants will not be magically disappear. That’s not so good for the restaurant industry but perhaps good for the wine industry.

Of course the fly in this ointment is the plight of the small wineries with greatly reduced tasting room traffic, fewer restaurant sales, and no access to the big retailers and grocery stores where most of the boost in sales is happening.

But Rob is even bullish on their prospects if they invest in phone and online sales, quality videos to help market their brand, and innovative remote marketing strategies.

McMillan is no Pollyanna. He’s been bearish on wine industry growth for several years. The fact he thinks there is opportunity here is reason for some optimism.

Is Wine Unique as a Beverage with Aesthetic Appeal?


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fog over vineyardsI doubt that I need to persuade readers of this blog that wine can be the source of a genuine aesthetic experience. But what about coffee, Scotch, or beer? If wine is a genuine aesthetic object why not these other beverages?

What makes wine an aesthetic object? Well its complexity for one thing. Wine has hundreds of aromatic compounds all in various combinations across thousands of varieties and regions with distinctive winemaking practices, weather patterns and soil compositions. Wine also changes as it ages; some wines vastly improve as they age. It changes in the glass and in the mouth and interacts with food, the atmosphere, the weather, the company and the music. There is plenty of variation and diversity to stimulate aesthetic interest.

Do other beverages have this complexity? To be honest, I haven’t found other beverages to be so complex, but to be fair maybe that’s my limitation and inexperience.

Wine is also embedded in a robust community with a well-developed vocabulary for talking about wine and firmly entrenched traditions of wine appreciation that make the aesthetic appreciation of wine more rewarding. Scotch does as well although Scotch doesn’t seem to have the volume of discourse about it when compared to wine. With the emergence of craft brews and origin-specific coffee beans, beer and coffee communities have emerged with their own discourses. I have no way of measuring the relative vigor and coherence of their discourse compared to wine but they are mere babies if longevity is an indicator of strength.

However the one factor that clearly distinguishes wine from most other beverages is the connection to place and its dependence on nature. Beer can be made anywhere. Although the quality of the water used in beer production matters and hops may have some minor regional variation, beer is less dependent on geography, and variations in nature play little role in beer production. Scotch of course has its peat bogs, and cellaring location can make a difference in how it ages in barrel. But malted barley whiskey can be made anywhere and, as long as the grain is healthy, nature plays no role. Most coffee is a blend of beans from a variety of different locations.

It’s that connection to nature, place and the resulting variations that give wine its distinctive aesthetic appeal.

What is a Beautiful Wine? (2)



beautiful wine 2This post continues my series on whether the millennia-long debate over the nature of beauty can give us important insights into wine quality.  (Part 1 is here)

One of the more persistent themes associated with beauty since Plato and continuing into the present day is that beauty is connected to mystery. Beauty while alluring also withholds something. From the occult light tripping across a Turrell installation, to the pulsating color fields of Rothko, to the strange cadences of Messiaen’s unraveling of bird song, beauty emerges from the sensory surface only to then refer to something beyond what we can experience in the moment. We often describe beautiful objects as enthralling or captivating, as if there were something active in the object to which the perceiver must respond with curiosity. Of course the routine use of “beauty” or “mystery” may be just terminological inflation, just a colorful way of saying “I really, really like that” but if we take the terminology of beauty and mystery seriously at face value it suggests there is something animated in our experience of beauty which invokes the idea of vitality and of something emerging only dimly perceived.

Wine too has this aura of mystery about it. The moment in which you taste something you have never tasted before provokes the suspicion that there is more here than is apparent; the wine and the wine world have more to give; my engagement hasn’t reached its full potential. Beauty draws us in because the patterns we sense in beautiful objects are incomplete.

This anticipation of something more, this surfeit of potential, amounts to a love of mystery. As we dig into the wine world, we discover that wine is full of surprises. As tasters, we are surprised by new, unexpected taste experiences that seem inexplicable despite our background knowledge. For winemakers, every vintage is different and poses new challenges that their university textbooks and theories struggle to explain. How a wine will develop in the barrel, in the bottle, or in the glass is unknown even to experts, and predictions about these matters are continually flouted. Even the nature of what is in the glass in front of you is a mystery. Wine is inherently a vague object, its features difficult to detect even with training. Unlike the clarity of objects directly in our visual field, wine gives us only hints of flavors, scents, and textures and will not sit still for our analysis. It is this mystery that drives people to make wine and study it.

Wines that have the complexity and originality to arrest our attention, to hold us captive waiting for its next move, exuding paradoxical features, redolent of honey and wounds, have this aura of mystery.

Most of the world’s most celebrated wines have this sense of mystery about them. But such wines don’t have to be expensive. This relatively affordable California Norton had that mysterious quality.

Wine Review: Comte Leloup du Chateau de Chasseloir sur lie Muscadet de Sèrve-et-Maine 2014


comt le loupWhat a pleasant wine this is, the magic of sur lie ageing on display. Racy in its outer display,  its inner soul is the charming, elongated midpalate where beauty waits patiently, arrested and deliberate until the sharp, electric bite of acidity finally conquers at terminus. Shapely in the mouth with remarkable fruit power and length, the acidity seems less prominent than in most Muscadet giving the wine a relaxed demeanor, the intensity of its swollen current reigned in by that creamy midsection .

A nose of crisp lemon, a bit of ripe pear, salty sea breeze and some struck match rounds out the verdant architecture.

Joyous and tuneful, ebullience restrained, it dances in step with Joni Mitchell’s Help Me

Technical Notes: From 100 year old vines, aged 10 months on the lees and 2 years in the bottle. These vineyards are part of the new classification system in Nantes called Crus Communaux. Muscadet is neither the name of the grape (which is melon de bourgogne) nor the name of the region. The name refers to a quality the grapes are supposed to have—muskiness, which I have never encountered in a wine labelled Muscadet.

Score: 92

Price: $20

Alc: 12%

Creativity and Loaded Guns


thinking outside the boxBecause I write about aesthetics and have had a life-long interest in art and music, I hold creativity and imagination in very high regard. My book on the philosophy of wine, which is nearing completion, dwells at length on creativity and imagination in winemaking and wine tasting. So one thing that is central to what you might loosely call my “philosophy of life” is that the capacity for creativity (or thinking outside the box in the vernacular) is an admirable character trait and a central element of a good life.

And then I read something like this from a right wing talk show that MSNBC’s Joy Reid was commenting on:

CALLER: “Maybe they could make some sort of vape that could help people, you know, that would atomize chemicals into your lungs and you could blow it out your nose, but uh thinking outside the box is what we need to do now and no one seems to want to do it. I don’t know if I’m crazy.

HOST: No, you’re not, Zack, you’re not crazy, and bingo – you said the word, you said the phrase. Thank you for that call. Thinking outside the box. That’s literally what the president was doing yesterday. That’s what a good chief executive does.

They are of course praising our moron-in-chief who last week was encouraging a shot of bleach to cure the coronavirus. That sure is thinking outside the box, no doubt.

Encouraging creativity in these dolts is like giving a toddler a loaded gun. I need to be careful in the future about who I advise to use their imagination.