Monday, December 14, 2009

What Goes Best With Humble Pie?

It should be no surprise to my regular readers that I am a bit of a Francophile, as a matter of fact I am sure there are plenty of people that believe that I think French wines are superior to all others, and in a way that’s true….for me, for my palate, for the way I drink, French wines are better but as a whole, well I am not willing nor would I be so narrow as to suggest that they are the best, like ever. I’m fully aware that that savory, mineral, earthy, tangy thing that makes my eyes roll back in my head makes other people pucker, scrunch their nose and utter those obnoxious phrases like, “that’s thin” or “Not much going on there”. This kind of comment is why I staunchly refuse to take part in those, “French Pinot Noir versus Domestic Pinot Noir” events, in that kind of setting, a couple little sips then move on….well, my beloved French wines just get lost. Guess I shouldn’t be shocked, those wines were never meant to be show stoppers, never meant to dazzle with one sip. They are wines that were meant to be enjoyed over the course of a meal, throughout the evening or better yet, 10 years down the road. People like me, people that are into drier, leaner wines are drawn to the rustic, less primary wines from France. Are they better wines? No, but they are better suited to a palate like mine.

Now when faced with one of those face pucker people I try and explain the wines, tell them how their subtle nature is better for food, how they were not meant to be rich and fruity and urge them to spend more than a minute with them….notice the way the wine leaves the palate refreshed, seeking another sip. This tactic usually works, not always, but most of the time and while I am not trying to or succeeding in making them, “converts” I think it helps broaden their love and appreciation of wine. They can love their rich domestic wines and the more reserved French wines, I love this part of my job….so yeah, what about me?

When I find myself tasting through a bunch of New World wines I find that I am scrunching my nose, making the pucker face and tossing about my own obnoxious comments like, “Fuck that’s sweet” or, “Wow, that’s too aggressive” and most of the time relegating those wines to the, “Not for me pile”. Now I can still sell them, I know tons of people that love that forward style of wine…kinda easy to sell really, but for me to take home, drink or even put down for a year or two, yeah that never ever happens.

So I have a very dear friend and loyal reader that has taken on the task of introducing me to some California wines that he thinks might suit my palate…I was beyond skeptical at first, thought it was unbelievably sweet that he was sending me wines, made me feel extremely special but there was something in the pit of my tummy that made me wonder why he was bothering? I have been tasting California wines for 13 years, never been my thing really. Oh I think I had a mild flirtation with Zinfandel back before they were Port, back when DeLoach O.F.S Zinfandels were allocated…and good, but once the super sweet, super extracted, boozy style became fashionable I got out of the Zinfandel drinking business. As someone that has a zero tolerance for most anything sweet, (not kidding, don’t like chocolate, candy, ice cream…none of it, I even put salt on fruit to make it palatable) New World wines, (yes, generalizing here) just hit that sweet sensor on my palate and therefore not something that I have ever been drawn to.

So the first wine he sent, a Rhys Pinot Noir held its own side by side with one of my favorite Red Burgundies, (okay in fairness to the Burgundy it was from a difficult vintage) in fact I was actually compelled to slam the cork in the bottle of Rhys and take the leftovers to work the next day to share with the staff….stunning Pinot Noir, simply delicious but, okay I admit it, I thought it was a fluke. Sure there are some great wines being produced in California and I was bound to taste a couple that suited me, lucky…he got lucky, (okay really funny when I tell you he was a sommelier for like….ever, it was once his job to do this and here I was like, “Yeah okay, we’ll see” such a know-it-all).

The second wine was a bit tougher, he had even mentioned that he was not holding out hope that I would like it….Zinfandel, my most hated wine ever. Now I took the bottle to a dinner with a bunch of wine geeks, we popped the cork, poured the wine in my glass and…Zinfandel, the best Zinfandel I’ve had in like a jillion years but….sigh, just aint my thing. I am leaving out what wine it was because frankly, I don’t want you all making fun of me for not loving it or jumping to its defense. It was a great wine, balanced, lovely texture, extremely well made, but just was not for me.

Last night I popped another of my gift wines. I was celebrating the eve of my last day off before Christmas Day, I had glass of Champagne while making dinner and thought some Pinot Noir would be great with the thick, perfectly marbled steaks we were having. Popped my head in my little wine fridge and pulled out the bottle to warm up a little before dinner….okay lying, I popped the cork right away but the wine was WAY too cold, so I then left it to come up a bit more to room temperature.

I took a sip right before putting dinner on the table and have to admit, little sweet at first…not a sweet wine mind you, just a little sweet for me, so I nibbled the food, went back to the wine and with each sip I was finding something beyond the primary, something more sultry, something more like the Pinot Noir that makes my little hairs stand up…something sensual. The wine was a 2002 Dehlinger Octagon Russian River Pinot Noir and that bottle of wine seduced the hell out of me last night. I took my time; spent the evening letting it reveal itself to me, expose its layers, show me how freaking complex it was and that silky, graceful texture…damn. Took everything I had to leave some wine in the bottle but I was dying to see how an older domestic Pinot Noir would hold up overnight….fuck, fuck, what a revelation.

I was letting this sultry, way beyond fruit, wine swish across my palate, gently laying its soft body in my mouth and these exact words came to my mind, “You have to take your time with these wines. You can’t just taste them and expect them to wow you. They need to be tasted over the course of a meal, given time to show you all that they can do…” my argument for French wines was calling me and saying, “Hello Pot, this is The Kettle and you're black”.


Michael Hughes said...

It boggles my mind how you have such a way with words & just how you so freely express yourself. Kinda jealous really. Not only for your writing ability but also because you get to drink such bad ass wines. I find myself in the same position with the defending of my beloved Washington wines "oh but you can't just drink them straight away! You have to allow them to show themselves when they're ready, don't rush it. Keep going back to the glass....." But thats not to say that there aren't brilliant wines out there in all sorts of regions. They just might not be for me. But I'll still try them! Cheers darlin! I know we will both be in retail hell for the next couple of weeks.

Samantha Dugan said...

You are too sweet darlin, never ceases to amaze me how kind you all are about my silly ramblings...really means more than you can possibly know. Not sure what I did to get all this affection, (you know, aside from like exposing myself) but it was worth it.

When I read your posts about Washington I can feel your passion for those wines, can tell how much you love them and long to have others share your love. I dig that kind of raw emotion about wine from people in the business, far too many wish to dazzle you with their informative nuggets...don't give a shit about which way the slope is facing, tell me how it makes you feel.

Thomas said...

For a moment, I'll be mundane:

Each wine MUST be judged on its own.

OK, now back to non=mundane; welcome to the "mea culpa" crowd.

I just made a mini fool of myself on my blog, calling a wine woody that the producer claims was produced in stainless steel.

Of course, I haven't brought up the possibility that inside the stainless tank could have floated some chips. But hey, being proved wrong once in a while makes people think I'm human, and everyone needs a fantasy!

Samantha Dugan said...

Well at least I am in good company. Your story reminded me of a converstion I had with a winemaker from the Central Coast. I mentioned that his Viogner had a fair amount of oak on it and he responded, "What you are tasting is probably the terroir"...I suggested that he might consider NOT fertilizing with oak chips in the future.

Thomas said...


I love the terroir response.

One time at an Italian wine trade tasting in a hotel in NYCity, I came upon a Rosso Di Montefalco that was TCA tainted, and the bottle was already half empty.

When i pointed out the taint to the distributor rep who was pouring he said that I obviously did not understand the Montefalco terroir. I told him that I was so glad to discover the chlorine mines of Italy.

Andrew Ross said...

Hosemaster is tight. Kanzler pinot is tighter.

Samantha Dugan said...

Say huh?

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Isn't the real joy in wine sharing ones passion with others of the same persuasion? Even if they don't share your enthusiasm for a particular wine, at least they begin to understand you a little better from tasting a wine you love.

Generalizations about wine are almost always wrong. There are lots of French wines that seem overtly New World in style, and there are lots of California wines that are as dramatic and as interesting as any French wine. I've yet to find a country that doesn't produce at least a few wines that fit my palate. OK, maybe Canada.

As to Viognier, I find that every lousy Viognier tastes like the winemaker did something stupid to it, like barrel-ferment it, or age it in oak, even if he didn't. When it's bad, it just sucks like Mutineer Magazine. Give me Roussanne every day of the week. Though she was stupid to marry Tom Arnold.

I love you!

Your HoseMaster

Richard said...

Dehlinger rocks. I've been drinking the 99 and 01s recently. Don't think I've had an Octagon, but even their RRV bottling is doing well at that age. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your impressions. No need to apologize for your palate.

max said...

Your focus on French wines is why I like the blog so much. Lots of people write for those with a preference for 15.5% cabs and 17% port like zins -- your focus on La Belle France is an oasis in a desert of new oak barrels. That being said while I trend toward Bordeaux, I have long been a fan of Ridge wines. Tablas creek makes some pretty good stuff. The problem I find is that I get very limited in my California selections. Its hard to justify trying a bottle of California that I might like, when I could drink french stuff I know will be great.

Samantha Dugan said...

My HoseMaster,
You are right My Love, nothing says sharing your passion like swapping fluids. I adore you.

I was not as much apologizing for my palate as admitting my hypocrisy...I was asking people to do something I had been unwilling to, not cool, not balanced and pretty narrow of me. Not to mention I was, in my exclusion of a whole region, missing out on some truly fantastic wine.

Yay! Welcome new guy, so nice to see a new poster/reader. Oh don't go thinking I have switched teams, still a French wine girl without a doubt, just willing to be open to new, when recommended by the right person. I'm with you kid, when spending my money I am going to go French, (that I know I love) over anything else, (that I may or may not) they are the wines that please me the most, more often than most, what I love. I'll let other people blog about California wines, people that know far more about them and really love them....I rather like being one of the few French wine focused blogs out here in this big old sphere. Thank you so much for reading.

Charlie Olken said...

Okay, so I am three days late to this party. Got my own work to do, which is why I am here in the first place. I am writing about Zin this morning and your words have seared a hole into my brain.

The folks who dismiss CA wine across the board do not know what they are talking about. Sure, Zin is a particular flavor and there is no shame in not liking that flavor--except that few wines in the world do better than Zin with pasta in red sauces or long-cooked pork shoulder napped in almost anything. But, hey, I don't like Gruner. Some people think my palate must have a hole in it.

But, as much as I enjoy our continuing repartee, Sam, I have to say this. If you like Dehlinger Pinot Noir at its high alcohol level, then you would love all kinds of CA Pinots like Willimas Selyem and Kosta Crowne and Paul Hobbs and HdV and, and, and.......

I don't want to be seen as taking a cheap shot here, and clearly you have seen some light, but I have never understood how folks can shoot down all CA wine without trying a few that come highly recommended from folks who know their CA onions.

That said, and apologies, I love your take on Zinfandel because most slams at Zin are that it is just prune juice--and that ain't so. Lord knows that I don't like prune juice and too many Zins run in that direction. You may not want to tell us which one you loved, but I can suggest that you try wines like Dutton Goldfield, Ridge, some of the Ravenswoods like the new Teldischi Zin 2007. These are Zins with what makes wine great--depth, range, balance, the ability to work well with food, etc.

So, Sam, if you see your name quoted in print next month praising Zin in your own unique way, do not be surprised. You have hit upon the secret to wine appreciation--balance, and there are plenty of balanced Zins that belie the so-called common wisdom that they are all over the top and irredeemable. Welcome to my world.

By the way, CA Chards are not all sweet, overoaked, overripe and unbalanced either. Never were "all" that way.

Samantha Dugan said...

Mr. Olken Sir,
The me that writes here and the me that sells wine are two very different people. I would never dismiss an entire wine growing region as a whole....well, I think Australia is a big old mess but other than that, it just aint something I do. I taste and sell plenty of very well made wines from California, (Oregon and Washington as well) and I do in fact believe that the wines are well made and someone, just most of the time, (not all as I admitted in this post) not for my palate. You must remember that I have been working in a retail wine shop for 13 years so it's not like I am just tasting the wines I buy, I taste everything and more often than not the wines I buy to take home are French...damn lucky thing as I am a French wine buyer at the shop!

As far as the Dehlinger Pinot goes, I did not notice ANY heat on that wine...maybe it had mellowed with age but I have tasted Kosta Browne and found it WAY too hot and WAY too sweet for me...dunno, maybe I have some defect when it comes to tasting wines with a lot of primary fruit.

I did not take any of your comments as a cheap shot sweetheart, who doesn't like a little love bite from time to time?!

Now if you have HoseMaster in one issue and me in another people are going to think that Ron & I must have some dirt on you or somethin'.

Thanks as always for adding to the conversation Charlie baby and not to owrry, those photos are safe with me!

Charlie Olken said...

Hi Sam--

I love your comment about primary fruit. It is true that KB Pinots have a lot of that characteristic. So do Dehlinger Pinots when young.

As I said, no one has to like all the same things, but as a fan of both Dehlinger and KB, I do not find them light years apart. And I also agree that wines with lots of fruity depth, if well-balanced, will age into a more polished and rich maturity.

When Ron was here a few weeks ago, we drank old wines back to 1962 Heitz Pinot. I was friggin spectacular. A couple of others did not hold up, but if we had not had too much to drink after a day of visiting wineries, we would also have opened older Chalone Pinots as well as some 2002s. Wish you had been here.

Samantha Dugan said...

I would have loved to have been there!! As a matter of fact I was talking to my husband last night telling him that I think I need to plan a trip up that way just to meet you guys.....think I feel trouble comin'

Charlie Olken said...

Be careful what you wish for. I have met us, and I can assure you that it is no walk in the park.

Samantha Dugan said...

Oh baby, you have no idea....I am so not a-scared of you two, you are talking to a girl that woke up...on the plane coming home from her last trip to France having NO IDEA how I got there and I had all my stuff. I think I can handle Puff Daddy and The HoseMaster...

Anonymous said...

The HdV crew does not make a Pinot Noir.... great read, however. Thank you!

Puff Daddy said...

Re HdV. My bad. There is a whole lot of very good Pinot Noir made from Hyde Vineyard grapes, but HdV intentionally does not make one as de Villaine says he does not want to compete with himself.

And given that his other gig is DRC, he could not win the competition--if you know what I mean.