Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Alive

I love the notion of wine being a living thing. When I read about winemakers describing the life in their bottles, I think that is what compels me to want to experience their wine the most. I recently made the acquaintance of a wine friend when traveling to a career fair in Bristol Bay Alaska. When he saw that I was reading a biography about Madame Clicquot the door to wine talk was opened. He and his wife travel to Tuscany every spring so he has a pretty extensive knowledge of Italian wines. Upon telling him about a 1969 Brunello that I planned on opening to commemorate the year of my birth, he said that he would help me find as much information about it as possible. This later led us to a conversation about old wines, of which I have little experience. He mentioned a friend who liked to collect Bordeaux wines and Michael has had the privilege of sharing some wonderfully aged bottles with him. He said that his friend claims that wines do not have a straight climb that leads to a penultimate peak, but that wines go through periods of dormancy or sleep where they hide their attributes, then they wake up and their splendor comes through, they hibernate again, and the pattern continues. Although I think it would be difficult to quantify this phenomenon, I find the notion fascinating nonetheless. How wonderful it would be to help carry out an experiment to prove this occurrence to be true. Somebody should write a grant.

There is a winemaker that I began reading about this winter named Sean Thackrey. He believes that his wines present themselves differently depending upon the barometric pressure. He mentions this in an interview on Chow. It is worth watching if you have the time. He has his own winemaking practices that are drawn from ancient texts on making wine. Sean does not grow his own grapes and disputes the concept of terroir that I had mentioned in yesterday’s post. His most effective argument is that he makes a consistently well recognized Syrah called Orion out of fruit sourced from the same Rossi vineyard that Gallo makes their bulk wine from. In his hands and under his guidance the fruit is able to fulfill its greatest expression, whereas the industrialized methods of the Gallos create something altogether different. Thackrey also discusses how much his wine changes after the bottle is opened. Any of you who read ratings have read about how much the wine will change from the initial pour to perhaps two hours later, but Sean maintains that his wine will continue to present additional traits that are still enjoyable up to one and two days after opening the bottle. Until recently, I had always felt that a good bottle should be enjoyed the first day that it was opened so as not to waste its qualities before they go into their demise at the hands of oxygen. The biggest problem is to keep from drinking a bottle before one has the opportunity to experience its evolution.

If you are interested in trying Sean’s wines, visit his website that is linked above to his name and e-mail him requesting to be added to his offering list. I am saving the single varietals that I got from him, all of them named after constellations, but he also makes a non-vintage wine called Pleiades. Each of his releases of this wine bears a different number, yet different mixtures of batches with sometimes up to seven grape types. He said something to the effect that he saves his unruly batches of wines and blends them into what becomes Pleiades. His latest release costs $24/bottle-a great value for such a delicious wine-but he offers a 10% discount for cases, even mixed ones.

My Italy visiting wine friend recommended a book that upholds the wine alive notion. Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito contains some wonderful wine narratives with stories of the winemakers that instill the wine with the life it contains. Sergio owns a shop, which is an understatement I am sure, called Italian Wine Merchant. His goal is to represent the top 1% of a huge body of wines that are contained in the political boundaries of Italy. He relates a story of a man named Jasko Gravner who had brought forth the modernization of winemaking techniques in Italy only to walk away from all of that and return to the old way of making wines. Instead of using barrels or smaller barriques to age his wine before bottling, he began to use clay amphorae that are buried underground in his cellar to contain the wine. The temperature and the electrical field, he asserts, are perfectly maintained by the earth. In any case, the results are such that he is in Sergio’s top 1%. This is just a glimpse of the many involved stories that Sergio shared about his relationships with his winemakers. By the way, he is married to an Alaska girl.

Michael Meagher’s Vino V 2005 White Hawk Syrah was very enjoyable. It was dark, deep, and velvety with a hint of vanilla at the top. It had enough tannic structure that I think it could have aged well for a while, but it drank well now. You can get it directly from his website for $45 and if you sign up to be on the mailing list, you will get a discount.

Drink some life juice!



  1. Mel, you've inspired Stephen and I! We're ready to move beyond our hoi polloi mode of wine consumption (we usually have a case of some Trader Joe's special stashed in the closet). While I do look forward to trying a bottle of Orion sometime in the near future (loved the Sean Thackrey interview), we thought we should begin educating our palates slowly. So, some questions: Are there points where quality leaps typically happen? (For example, from a $12-$15 price range to a $16-$20 range.) And can you make any recommendations in those ranges?

    Stephen is ready to organize a subscription service in Sitka whenever your business is up and running :). We suspect wine is ridiculously overpriced here.

    P.S. We watched Bottleshock last night (I told you we've been inspired!). Not as good as Sideways, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

  2. In regard to pricepoints, I must say that I am pretty sceptical about any wines that are less than $10. I did drink a wine yesterday that was from Tolmach's Ojai vineyard, his Ojai Red, that was $13. It was very pleasant and went well with Tim's batch of beef jerky that he had finished the night before. It did decline more quickly than Ojai's Santa Barbara Syrah that goes for $22. That took a long time to open up, but drank well for a couple of days.
    Price points are as subjective as each individual's palates and are difficult to quantify.
    I liked Bottle Shock, but would have to agree that Sideways was more enjoyable. Sideways the book is worth reading and wine educational if you have time.
    I am getting ready to watch a wine documentary called Mondovino. Will try to post a review when I do.
    Nice hearing from you.

  3. Thanks for the tips, Mel. We'll check out the wines you mentioned. Looking forward to your review of Mondovino.