Posts Filed Under wine review
Remember when we talked about that old Cinsault vineyard in Lodi?
I mean, that REALLY OLD Cinsault vineyard in Lodi?
The tiny, flat, rectangular Bechthold vineyard – all 25 acres of it, or just about 0.0025% of Lodi’s overall plantings – is an organic, own-rooted, sandy-soil patch of Cinsault in the Mokelumne River area, near the town of Lodi itself. Once just a holdover from a time when such vineyards were being ripped out and replanted in the rip=roaring 1990s, it now counts Turley and Bonny Doon among its clients, with a long waiting list for its fruit.
We can thank German settlers for Bechthold’s orerly layout, which is still owned and farmed by descendants of the family that broke vinous ground there in the late 1800s. Given that phylloxera hit the Cinsault plantings of Europe pretty hard, this little Lodi spot is as close as we’re likely to ever get to original, un-grafted Cinsault. In fact, it’s likely the world’s oldest Cinsault planting.
Farming there is a challenge not just in that the vines are still relatively productive, but also because their age (nearly 130 years) basically guarantees disease. As grape grower Craig Ledbetter told me (and a handful of other Right coast media types) at a recent tasting of Bechthold Cinsault wines held at Brooklyn Wine Exchange (I was a guest of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, which Ledbetter chairs): “at 128 years old, you have to assume that it has it, no matter what disease you’re talking about.”
The results of the wines crafted from this special plot of Earth? Well, I’m not going to say that they’re profound wines, because they’re not; at least, not in the way that we typically think of profundity in wine these days, which is basically in terms of complexity and harmony. But more authentic wines you are unlikely to ever taste. In that sense, they’re wonderful, geek-gasm treasures of juice…
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Lithe, balanced, light, and polite wines are de rigueur in the wine world at the moment.
Now, I love those wines, but my tastes are quite catholic, and so I dig (well-made, authentic) wines of all stripes (okay, excepting possibly Retsina). And once in a while, after sampling lots of lithe, balanced, light, and polite wines, I want something that is brazenly, almost stupidly, nearly obnoxiously in the other direction.
Enter two 2008 Italian wines from the sample pool, to the rescue!
The I-don’t-give-a-flying-crap-whether-or-not-you-like-me territory is usually reserved for fortified wines, occasionally you run into non-fortified versions in the vinous world, of which I am about to give you two examples. If the two wines featured here today had a theme, it would be “If it (meaning your palate) bleeds, we can kill it” (insert Ahhhhhrnaaaaaaald accent here).
I do NOT mean that in a bad way, as in they are palate-killers. I mean only that they unabashedly engage on an onslaught on your senses, and they make no ones about doing so.
Basically, these wines are kind of like Dutch and Dillon facing off (and flexing) in Predator. They don’t need to add the “[comma] f*ck-face” to the end of their sentences, because it’s implied by their baddass-ness. But since they don’t give a flying f*ck, they probably won’t say anything to you, anyway. The conversation between some (probably most) of you out there and these wines would look a little like this:
You: Hmmm… I’m not so sure I like these styles…
Them: [ silence, staring at you ].
You: Aren’t you guys gonna say anything?
Them: [ eyes narrow, eyebrows lower, silence interrupted by sound of machine guns being cocked ].
You: [ starts to cry ].
The final warning, I suppose, is that if you’re not a fan of wines that come on strong, and make a full-on assault of either your sinus cavities, palate, or both, and make exactly zero apologies for it, it’s best if you just turn back now…
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…is a Hungarian man with serious stones.
And he will gladly show them to you, if you ask. Actually, I think he might show them to you even if you don’t ask. He has them laid out on his front porch; dozens of them, organized by 21 different dulo (basically akin to climat). Of course, since we are talking about István Szepsy, not all of the dulo areas represented by his stony display are official; some are his own classifications, harkening back to a map of Tokai region parcels that dates back to 1816. Sixty percent of the holdings are recognized as first class vineyards under the current classification system in Tokaji.
At this point, we should pause and set up a bit of context for you: En route to my visit, my Hungarian handler (himself a winemaker and wine critic) introduced Szepsy like this: “I am now taking you to see the best winemaker… in the world!” So expectations were kind of high by the time we pulled up (late, of course – hey, we were in Hungary, after all! – with the small man himself waiting somewhat impatiently outside the gate) to Szepsy’s estate in the town of Mád.
History suggests that Szepsy should know what he’s doing when it comes to crafting wine in Tokaji: his family has been making wine in the region since (at least) the late 16th century. István Szepsy senior managed to hide a small independent vineyard parcel from the ruling Communists until the 1970s, so it’s not difficult to imagine how István junior got his independent streak. During the socialist regime, he planted about four hectares of his own vineyards, delivering the yield to the state combine until the ruling party changed in 1990.
Since then, Szepsy has pretty much focused obsessively on quality wine production without looking back: out of 52 hectares of plantings, less than 50,000 bottles are made. It’s now a total family business, and no second wines are made (whatever doesn’t make the cut is sold out in bulk). As Szepsy told me, “it’s a very fragile balance economically.” I doubt too many would want to try to get this guy to change his mind, though.
Back to the guy’s stones…
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