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Elegant Wines | 1 Wine Dude - Page 12

Posts Filed Under elegant wines

On Planting A Vineyard By Hand, And Not Getting Your Wines Reviewed By U.S. Critics (Yarra’s Giant Steps)

Vinted on June 14, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, overachiever wines

“I can’t review your wines, they have too much acid.”

Those were words that a reviewer at one of the U.S. wine glossies told Aussie Yarra Valley producer’s Giant Steps head honcho Phil Sexton (according to Phil, anyway).

To which Phil’s reaction was, apparently, something to the effect of “but that’s the whole point!” Linear acidity, mineral liveliness, longevity – those are clearly what Yarra Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are all about, if you taste enough of the stuff to be able to formulate an educated opinion on them. So Phil’s response to that unnamed critic was certainly more… diplomatic than mine would have been.

Intrepid 1WD readers will know that Giant Steps Chardonnay has done very well on the virtual pages here, so when I traveled to the Yarra Valley to visit Giant Steps (also purveyors of Innocent Bystander wines and Little Creatures beer, as well as a bistro in the Yarra). So I was pretty keen to see how Phil’s single-vineyard wines were doing in the U.S. market.

“We’re likely to pull out of the U.S., actually,” Sexton told me over dinner. The running joke of the evening was that I might have helped to sell the other case of Giant Steps in the U.S. with my previous high praise for their Chard. That was small beer consolation, though, and I ‘m not talking Little Creatures; I was genuinely disheartened to hear that GS wines get little critical play, and few sales, in my home country, while the seemingly much (much) smarter Aussies are buying the hell out of them

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Roots, Reconnected (Tasting Inglenook’s 1960 Cabnernet)

Vinted on June 7, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Jeff Smith, of Hourglass wines (and who, incidentally, just took the rather bold move of parting ways with long-standing and celebrated consulting winemaker Robert Foley, and bringing on Cade and Plumpjack alumnus Anthony “Tony” Biagi), knows his Napa Valley wine history.

Fortunately for me (more on that in a minute or two).

Smith’s roots are there, as grew up in the Napa wine scene, his family having now seen the whole kit-and-caboodle; from the bootstrapping farmers who, in his words, “picked up the scattered bones of an industry after Prohibition and phylloxera,” to the influx of outsiders flush with cash and dreams of world-class vanity projects on which they could invest (squander?) their fortunes.

In other words, Smith remembers when it was pronounced Mon-DAY-vee and not Mon-DAH-vee.

Napa’s is a winemaking history that many a wine lover has heard about, but few have really delved deeply into from a visceral standpoint, simply due to the fact that there isn’t much of the wine from those “old days” around to taste, most of it having been imbibed, or gone bad, a long time ago.

The really fortunate part for me was that when Jeff and I caught up over dinner at Press in St. Helena, he was in the mood to reconnect with the Valley’s roots, by way of directly sampling some of Napa’s history… from about the time when his former employer Robert Mondavi nearly single-handedly reinvented the Californian fine wine scene…

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Hill Of Grace, Fifty Vintages On (Henschke Recent Releases, And Getting Schooled In Australia’s Greatest Vineyard)

Vinted on May 31, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Fill a van with half a dozen Right Coast sommeliers traipsing through Australia’s Eden Valley en route to Henschke, and the on-road proceedings will take on the air of a group of pre-teens after a full night’s sleep and a breakfast of Sweettarts that were about to enter Disney World.

Initially, I didn’t “get” why this group (who, along with me, were visiting as guests of Wines of Australia) was so amped up for a winery visit. I knew Henschke made very, very god wine, but so what – a lot of producers make very, very good wine. There was, of course, that thing about Hill of Grace, clocking in at $600 or so a bottle, but I’d had plenty of expensive wine that didn’t live up to the billing on its price tag and so I was actually firmly in the “skeptically optimistic” territory about tasting it that day. What the hell was wrong with these people?

But here’s the thing about good Sommeliers, particularly those from the big drinks like Boston and New York: they have access to world’s most exclusive wines that far exceeds their pay grade levels. It’s more intimate access than most of us get, and often it means that they enjoy an understanding of the world’s best wines that few others can readily grasp for having simply lacked the experience – and I include in that unlucky majority most pro wine critics, because they don’t have wealthy patrons ordering the better vintages of the world’s most difficult-to-obtain juice several times per night, as the somms do (depending on what rich-and-famous clientele might be forking out the cash for the good stuff that night on the floor).

[ Editor’s note: My favorite such story doesn’t involve drinking wine at all: as one of my newfound somms told me, he once served a group that included Robert Downey, Jr. After offering Downey the wine list, before he could finish his opening sentence Downey cut him off: “Oh, no, no, no, no NOOOOOO... take that away... we would tear this place APART.” ]

And so it turns out that the somms were all justified to have been so giddy, because I was about to be schooled – big-time – in what it really meant to have sommelier-level access to one of the world’s finest fine wines…

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The Other Side Of Oz (Beechworth’s Small Producers And The Heart Of Bareknuckled Australian Winemaking)

Vinted on May 24, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

It’s a brilliantly sunny day in Beechworth, a rural (even by Aussie wine region standards) area in eastern Victoria that sits just south of Rutherglen. The region was made famous by Giaconda, whose premium Chardonnays are in such high demand that they’re now offered en primeur.

But I’m not here to see Giaconda (okay, that mostly had to do with the fact that it was closed when I visited). I’m across the street, where Keppell Smith has set up shop for his Savaterre brand – and at seventeen years running, he’s just gotten around to building a modern winemaking facility. This is the other side of Oz, where handfuls of tiny producers are setting up garage-style winemaking efforts, using natural cork, and otherwise eschewing the penchants of ginormous Aussie wine conglomerates’ for squeaky-clean, screw-capped, and what many wine geeks often criticize as characterless wines.

Smith comments on what he’s trying to avoid, and his words, I come to learn later, more-or-less sum up the approach of producers throughout Beechworth: “Fuck me dead! There’s nothing worse than a ‘so what’ wine!

Ask Smith why he chose this spot to plant grapes, and his answer, similarly, will tell you everything; only this time, it’s everything about his approach to winemaking (and, I gathered, to life itself – Smith seems incapable of hiding his true feelings about anything… even by Aussie transparency standards).

“Because of this,” he says, picking up a handful of brownish, unforgiving, decomposed granite. “Because of this shitty, shitty, crappy, shitty soil!”…

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