The first time we had a conversation it revolved around blogging and writing (two different things). Why don’t we talk about wine for a change? You have very strong opinions about wine, which I admire, and I’m wondering how long it took you to come to those opinions. If Randy had installed you as the California buyer at Wine Country, do you think your preferences about wine would have evolved differently?
Talk about wine? On my wine blog?! You’re kinky….
As far as opinions about wine, well I had them from the beginning. Of course then it was, “It sucks” because I didn’t know anything and thought it all tasted the same. Randy kept prodding, making me taste and smell everything and one afternoon, with a glass of Alsatian wine, I got it. From there it took only realizing that like anything else, wine is subjective, so having an opinion and sharing it was never a problem.
I think I’ve always loved Alsatian wines, though I rarely seem to drink them any more. The only birth year wine I’ve ever tasted was a 1952 Hugel Riesling—which was appropriate since it smelled vaguely of placenta. It was at an event in honor of Hugel’s 350th year of continuous winemaking. And it was a gorgeous wine. It was served to us blind and we were asked to guess the vintage. Most of us guessed it was from around 1971. It was unbelievably alive and fresh—which you could say about me. I have always wanted to taste the ’52 Chave Hermitage, if anyone has a spare bottle they want to send to their favorite HoseMaster.
My becoming the French wine buyer was more organic than a placement really. For many years I was the cheese and sparkling wine buyer only, although as I drank my way around the shop it was always the wines from France that spoke to me and that I drank the most often. It wasn’t until I made a call to Randy, from Beaune, after a long afternoon in the cellars and very late night dinner, (might have been a wee bit drunk) telling him that I had my heart stolen by Burgundy and wanted to learn more, my words and passion apparently palpable through the phone line, that he appointed me the Burgundy buyer for the shop. Not too long after that our French buyer left and Randy felt it was only natural that I take over the department. So my preferences were in place before I was the buyer and California wines, in general, never really grabbed me.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen you gush that much about the wines of the Rhone Valley, at least not Hermitage or Cote-Rotie or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and not like you gush about Champagne and Burgundy and the Loire. I know that when I start listing the great wines of the world, my heart goes right to Chateau Rayas (though it hasn’t lived up its potential lately), Le Vieux Donjon, Chave Hermitage, Cote-Rotie from Rostaing or Jasmin, and many others in that neighborhood. Where do those regions rank in your French pantheon of wines?
I think you nailed it with the, “Hasn’t lived up to its potential lately”. I was never as taken with the wines from Rhone, just a little too much upfront junk for me at first and now, well now they are often down-right unrecognizable as French wines at all. When I burry my nose in a glass and get a big blast of cooked sweet berries and brown sugar…well I’m out. The Northern Rhone are a little more my style, dig that gamey, smoky, savory thing they often exude but I find that many of the foods I eat aren’t suited to wines that big. That and I’m not a cellar person, I drink ‘em young and the Northern Rhone wines need more time than I’m willing to give.
Anyone who reads Samantha Sans Dosage knows of your great passion for Champagne, well, for Grower Champagnes. Let’s say you were tasting a lineup of Champagnes blind, some are from the Grande Marques, others are Grower Champagnes (ones you might not already know), how would you know which are which? And how would it affect your decisions if I were kissing your neck while you were tasting? Is Champagne better when it inadvertently comes out your nose?
You kissing my neck while I’m tasting Champagne conjures up a whole different kind of frothy…
Yeah, I’d probably prematurely disgorge myself.
As you know you and I have been on two panels where we tasted sparkling wines blind and if you recall the sparkling wines and big house Champagnes fell to the bottom of my list each time. There is just a richness and concentration in grower Champagne that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else or in million case production wines. Kind of the way truffle oil might taste like truffle but never has the power, layering, complexity, depth or freshness that eating actual truffle does. The thing is, with grower Champagne, (and I’m talking the good ones here. There are some that I find just as insipid as the big houses…not many, but some) it is the base wine that I’m interested in. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the bubbles, nice to have them but far from essential because it’s that concentrated flavor I crave. I drink great Champagne from a regular wine glass and I swirl the hell out of it just as I would any other wine. I think people are dazzled by the sparkly and stop short of truly evaluating the wine, shame really, because they are missing out on some truly world class winemaking. Truth be told I have stopped drinking sparkling wines all together, from anywhere other than Champagne. They just don’t have that thing that nibbles my neck and keeps me coming back for more.
You have completely convinced me that drinking the great Champagnes from flutes is stupid. Even stupider from oboes. It was a genuine joy to taste Champagnes blind with you. I learned a lot. You have an exceptional palate, Samantha, one of the best I’ve ever tasted with. You often referred to a “salty” quality in the best Champagnes, a quality I don’t think I ever really picked up on, though I sort of get it. But it never appeared in my tasting notes. Can you speak to that? What I remember most vividly from one tasting was the greatness of the Camille Saves Rose. I remember thinking that it was EXACTLY what I wanted when I wanted great Champagne Rose. I haven’t had a better one before or since.
Yeah, Saves made me its bitch years ago….welcome to the club. The salty thing, not sure I noticed that I use that but I know what I mean, that’s not enough? Have you ever placed your tongue on a seashell or Play-Doh? There is this zing of something somewhat salty although salt isn’t quite the right word. I can taste that stark shock of “saltiness” in some great Champagnes, especially Blanc de Blancs. I get the same thing with really browned butter if that helps at all…
Are there any bigger Tete du Cuvee Champagnes you like? Pol Roger Winston Churchill Cuvee? (I confess a fondness for it, maybe because my jowls are beginning to mimic his.) How about Salon? Any of them? Or have you abandoned them altogether?
When was the last time you had that Winston Churchill? And not icy cold in a flute? Just curious. I think Salon can be truly remarkable and sublimely complex wine but it is also crazy fucking expensive and I can’t say that I find it that much better than something like Agrapart Venus or Jose Dhondt Vieilles Vignes, or even that Coquillette 2006 that we shared with Eric Asimov, (see what I did there? Made us all legit and shit by name dropping) and they are all less than $100 where Salon is what, close to $300?
Oh, and Champagne needs no aeration….
Doesn’t need a fucking Rabbit™ either.
You and I seem to have two constant wine disagreements. I love Zinfandel and you don’t. I’m still very fond of recalling the Ridge tasting we attended together and watching your gorgeousness go all fartyface as you tasted through their Zinfandels. What is it about Zin that offends your sensibility?
What? My fartyface isn’t gorgeous? How rude.
It is the standard by which all other fartyfaces are judged.
Aw, how sweet is that? I’m like blushing and junk.
I think asking me what I don’t like about Zin is like me asking you why you’re a freak and don’t like eggs or tomatoes. I just don’t. I find the flavors run along this green thing that I don’t care for, almost like stems or something and it makes my gag hairs stand on end. I do taste every Zin we open and find by wine number six or seven I almost have to swallow as spitting could be….um, messy.
As HoseMaster I have had too many eggs and tomatoes hurled at me to like them.
I find your aversion to Zin utterly perplexing. You’re certainly not alone in disliking Zin, but I love the variety. There can certainly be a green element to Zin, as with any red wine, but I think vintage is very, very important to Zin, more so than many red wine grapes. But Zinfandel can be every bit as satisfying as Chinon or Barbera d’Alba or Bandol. Give me one of the Storybook Mountain’s Zins and I’m a happy camper. Though I drink Zin out of a flute, so maybe that’s the problem.
Our other debate is about Rose. We both love Rose, but I find Pinot Noir Rose to be insipid whereas I love Rose from Grenache or Sangiovese or Mourvedre. You seem to think there are some wonderful Roses from Burgundy. I’m woefully out of touch with that world, so I sort of believe you. However, I rarely like Rose made in the Saignee manner—I tend to call it After Thought Rose. To me, Rose should smell like red wine, yet taste like white wine. And they should never be the color of Bozo’s nose.
Thanks for clearing that up. Was that a question? Can’t find one but let me tell you why you’re wrong. First of all, Rose from Sangiovese?! Dude, c’mon, I don’t even think Italians like their Rose. Lame. Secondly, I have tasted some “insipid” Pinot Noir Rose but they weren’t from the Loire or Burgundy….any guesses where they were from? I’ll give you a hint, YOU LIVE THERE. I do think there are some really nice Pinot Noir Roses in California but they aren’t, nor can they be, like those from Sancerre or Marsannay which are miles away from being insipid. My boss Randy thinks I need to tie you down and teach you the ways of Pinot Noir Rose, you game?
OK, so I’m wrong about Pinot Noir Rose with my blanket statement, but it’s OK for you to condemn all Zinfandel. Nice to know we’re on equal playing fields.
Vagina always makes me more right….read the fucking manual sweetheart.
Sangiovese makes lovely Rose, My Love. I have no idea what Italians like, aside from surrender. Alfonso? Want to chime in? And, yes, there are LOTS of insipid Pinot Noir Roses from California—they’re worse than you think. But, for my money, it’s the great Provencale Roses, and the great Roses from other parts of France that are made from Grenache and Mourvedre and, well, everything but Pinot Noir, that are far better than and more interesting than anything I’ve ever had out of Burgundy. Sancerre, OK, maybe Sancerre, here and there.
You can tie me down, but let’s skip the Rose of Pinot Noir and get right to the few hours of skin contact.
Here’s a simple question. Outside of France, what is your favorite, or several favorite, appellation for wine?
That’s simple?! Well least I can kind of speak generally, although it will piss Thomas off. I adore reds from Piedmont, whites from Friuli, nearly everything from Jerez and I am starting a love affair with the Santa Cruz Mountains…oh when I can find one, an old school Rioja gets me every time.
I’m a firm believer that the Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the great appellations in California. Mount Eden’s Estate Chardonnay is one of the great wines in the state, period. And Rhys’ Pinot Noirs? Wow, those are surely wines that speak to you. And me. I’ve always said, also, that anyone who lists the greatest Cabernets in California and doesn’t list Ridge Monte Bello in the top five doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
I also love Piedmont, and the Friulian whites. What about those great Northeastern Italian red grapes, Teroldego and Lagrein? I love Lagrein! And I used to drive a ’74 Teroldego.
I just don’t drink enough Sherry. I love it, and it is so wonderful with so many dishes, and often with the food on the dishes. But I never seem to drink it. Stupid. What about you? What do you love that you don’t seem to drink often enough? I’ve noted Alsatian wines and Sherry, and I’d add to that Burgundy, on my end. You? And don’t say Gruner.
Rose of Sangiovese.