Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Scholium Project: 2007 'Naucratis' (Lost Slough Vineyard)

In the past few weeks, I've stumbled across wines from two wine makers whose approaches are so original, and deliberate, that they immediately captured my attention. As luck would have it, I found the last bottle of Sean Thackrey's Pleiades XV in the Corkscrew, and it now sits on my shelf, awaiting sufficient courage to open it. Even though it's the largest production of all the wines produced by that medieval tinkerer, it's not easy to find.

I was floored when I saw The Scholium Project '07 Naucratis at the new CoolVines store. Apart from Abe Schoener's extraordinary philosophy (which seems to make so much more sense than everyone elses), there were only 275 cases of this wine produced! At $5 below the winery's own price, this was a no-brainer.

Schoener is known for making unique wines from small vineyards. So what? Doesn't everyone these days? But there's something compelling about Schoener's eloquently-written credo. After reading it, one can't help but admire his aim: to display the excellence inherent in the vineyard, rather than use it as an ingredient. Of course the particular way in which he displays this excellence is quite original. Perhaps in aiming for flavor ripeness, not Brix, and long macerations he produces interesting wines, that communicate secondary flavors with clarity, but also sometimes result in huge, alcoholic beasts that many people can't stand.

I was sold at "small-production", "vineyard-driven", and "unique", but when I also greatly respect Schoener's unabashed extremeness. Wine isn't all balance, balance, balance as the dusty old British writers say. Rather, wine (as life) is a balance between balance and extremes. Read it over again, I'm fairly sure it makes sense. With that in mind, I was more than eager to try this wine, which did not disappoint:

The Scholium Project 2007 Naucratis, Lost Slough Vineyard (100% Verdelho).

Pale green straw in the glass, this wine has a beautifully expressive (if not high intensity) nose of honeysuckle, papaya, cool stones, and traces of grass, genmai, smoke, straw, and lime. In the mouth it offers up sweet, luscious, beautiful fruit with medium-to-full body and gorgeously soft texture. Undeniably delicious, with excellent acidity, the fruit lasts over 30 seconds on the finish. The flavors are well-integrated and harmonious, and it's so damn yummy I'm smacking my fist on the table repeatedly. The alcohol fumes burn my nasal membranes, and it's definitely hot in the mouth (14.9%), but you know what? I don't care.

Score: 88-92 points.

Availability: Only 275 cases were made. $22.50 at CoolVines.

Food pairing: I would like to drink this with a plain baguette and a hard, salty cheese, perhaps piave, or even some saltier bleu cheeses, like Roquefort.

Tasting conditions: I tasted at room temperature, as I taste all whites. Glasses: Riedel Bdx, Ravenscroft Impitoyable.

Conflict of interest: I think CoolVines is a cool new store. No I'm not being paid to advertise for them. I do think they have a great deal on this particular wine, though.

... Read more.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The new kid on the block!

It's definitely a happy day for wine lovers in the Princeton area. The wine store CoolVines just completed it's first week in it's new location, on Harrison and Nassau. Here's the rundown:

The location is a bit out-of-the-way for students. In particular, it is not within easy walking distance of the Palmer Square/Witherspoon St. area. On the other hand, it is within range of the Blue Point Grill, which is probably the best BYO within reach of student budgets.

The design of the store is elegant and innovative, if a little cramped. Wines are organized by color, body (light-med-full), and price (the cheapest wines are at the bottom, so bring kneepads!). The island at the center of the store functions both as a register and a tasting station, during in-store events.

Their selection needs a bit of work, as they themselves will admit. Currently it seems to be about 1/6th the size of the Corkscrew's. I'll be honest - I hadn't heard of a single wine on their shelves, but the first wine I purchased (a Chinon) was a solid selection. Perhaps their under-the-radar-wines approach is a good thing. They also have selections from New Zealand, Australia, South America, and South Africa - none of which are represented at the Corkscrew.

Their beer selection is already one of the most exciting shelves of alcohol in any store in town. I saw Dogfish Head, Stone, and a bunch of lambics that I will certainly be back for. In addition the spirits section is getting an overhaul, since Eric Mihan is on board. For those of you who didn't shop regularly at the Corkscrew, Eric is a spirits specialist, but also knows his stuff when it comes to wine. He's the go-to guy for cheese pairings, as he used to run Whole Foods' cheese counter.

The best thing about CoolVines is that they have seen what the Corkscrew has failed to acknowledge, and what California wineries have known all along: tastings, tastings, tastings! CoolVines offers free in-store tastings every Wednesday (5-8) and Saturday (2-5). The glasses are little sherry copitas that are oh-so-cute! In contrast, the Corkscrew hasn't had a tasting for months.

Furthermore, CoolVines offers a wide range of services that the Corkscrew doesn't, including wine service at BYO restaurants. While I doubt many students will be taking advantage of that, the wealthier members of the community will find it convenient.

To sum up: Check out CoolVines, but don't abandon the Corkscrew just yet. Mr. Chapuis is definitely the man for France (that is, anti-Parker France), and his French selection is an order-of-magnitude more extensive than CoolVines. For wine geeks who are used to browsing by region, the Corkscrew's layout is probably less of a headache than the CoolVines layout. However CoolVines is more friendly to those of us who haven't memorized thousands of obscure French AOC's, and want to pick up something that will go well with dinner the same night. Plus the people there are cool.

... Read more.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's not all subjective!

Early on in my wine drinking career, I was convinced that the evaluation of wine could be completely objective. I brandished Robert Parker's 100-point system like a golden cross. My good friend Liz argued vehemently that the evaluation of wine is completely subjective, and can't be reduced to anything as mathematical and clinical as scores. As I learned more about wine I realized she was partly right - it is impossible to remove the subjective element from wine tasting. On the other hand, there is objectivity to be found, as shown by the following diagram:

So, Liz, I'm not insane after all... at least not completely!

... Read more.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What is a winemaker?

As the singular vintner-rebel Sean Thackrey is fond of pointing out, there is no word in the French language for "winemaker." The word used instead, vigneron, means "wine-grower", but it connotes vinification as well (Rosenthal, memoirs). Paul Draper, the wine-maker/philosopher in charge of Ridge, asserts that wine is "grown, not made." Who, then, is a wine-maker?

Perhaps, he (or she) is one who through a quixotic mixture of love and harsh upbringing, coaxes the subtleties of terroir out of his grapes. His duty during vinification is to quite simply get out of nature's way.

Perhaps he is one who imposes his own personality on the grapes, resulting in a duel, or a duet of vintner vs. nature. His wines always have a bit of himself in them.

Perhaps he is a skilled artisan, removing all flaws, then standing aside to let Nature take care of the rest. His wine is different from year to year, as nature is different from year to year.

Perhaps he is a slave to the vine, giving up long hours for the opportunity to drink some of his own wine with good friends.

Perhaps he is a visionary, seeking to change the world of vinification. He knows where winemaking comes from, and wants to take it to a new place.

The few winemakers I've met were humble and extremely friendly. They value the growing of good grapes above all, and love to share their great works with friends. I hope to meet many more over the course of my life, and perhaps I will come closer to an answer in the future. At present, I have none.

... Read more.