Wine Book review : Wine & War

My posting schedule has been a little bit irregular lately and not as assiduous as I would have liked. I was a little preoccupied by professional matters which made it hard for me to focus on writing blog posts. Hopefully my work situation is all worked out now so I can get back on track.

First order of business, a review of another wine book, Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup.  My trusty sidekick lend me the book a while ago and I finished it last month. It’s definitely worth a review. I guess the subtitle of the book would work as a summary: The French, the Nazis & the battle for France’s greatest treasure. Anybody interested?

wine_war

Good. As I was saying, it’s a pretty great book, I might be biased because it’s about History and wine, arguably my two favorite things, but bear with me. Basically the book is a series of vignettes, in chronological order, about what happened to some wine producers WWII. Not only during the Phoney War and the actual war, but mostly during the Occupation.

I’m into History and I never realized how bad French people actually had it during the occupation. I mean I knew that being occupied and ruled by a puppet dictator was bad, but I didn’t realize how much people were actually starving. See, the Germans wanted to treat France as their national pantry, shipping all food production to Germany. And that included wine. They actually set up a dedicated organization to manage the plundering of French wine production with actual weinfurhers set up for each wine producing region.

Wine, as a prestige product and a symbol of French culture was a target of the Nazi occupants and the pillage of the best vintages was organized. Luckily, French producers and negociants acted fast, burying their best bottles, walling them inside cellars, switching labels with bad quality wine… All those measures helped but could not prevent the damage.

One of the most touching episodes told in the book takes place in a prisoner camp in Germany. French POWs are cold, worried, half-starved and homesick. One of the POWs, an ex-wine producer decides to organize a wine dinner for the whole camp with care packages from their families. It turns into a huge, month long project and culminates in a day long wine seminar topped by a tasting. For a day, wine helped prisoners forget about the stalag and enjoy a bit of their culture. That was definitely my favorite passage.

You’ll learn a few wine terms and some bit and pieces about winemaking and classic bottles and vintages, but for wine lovers, the fun part will be picking up names of producers they have heard of. Most of those names still live on today in the wine business: Huet at Vouvray, Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, Drouhin in Burgundy, Piper in Champagne… The most marking name, in my opinion was the Hugel family from Alsace. One of their son ended up conscripted in the German army and the other one fled to London to join the Free French Forces. That is some Greek tragedy material right here. Luckily, it ended well.

There you have it. I thought it was a great book but I am 1) a student of History and 2) French so I have a vested interest in the subject matter. I wonder if someone who is “just” a wine lover would enjoy it too.

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The Ramblings : MWWC9, Opening night dinners and glassware

Ramblings time.  A few thoughts and links that don’t really warrant a full post but that might however be of interest.

MWWC9 : Fear

Voting for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 9 is now open. As always, there are some fantastic entries, this month’s theme was fear which inspired various reactions. You can vote here, my entry is Fear and Loathing in wine tasting, it’s about self-doubt and Dune, and the fact that fear is good; fear is right, fear works.

Wine Blog Awards

WBA_logo_rotator

Someone was nice enough to nominate my blog in the Best New Blog category for the 2014 Wine Blog Awards, so I don’t know what is going to happen, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

Liquid Art House

I went to the opening of a new restaurant in Boston, the Liquid Art House. Great dinner that culminated in a dessert wine tasting: 2 Italian passitos (Toscany and Sicily), 1 late harvest tokaij from Hungary and 1 ice wine from Canada, here’s a picture that can’t possibly do justice to how great everything tasted.

the end of a happy dinner

the end of a happy dinner

Other tidbit from that dinner, apparently I can be fussy about Italian whites, at least that’s what my friend told me. She might be right too; I think it can be expanded to most whites from warmer climates. I tend to look for acidity in a white wine and as a rule, the warmer the climate, the less acidity there is! But then, I love viognier which isn’t known for high levels of acidity so… I guess it’s a matter of taste. At least now I’m aware of it.

Glass recommendations

Finally, I’m looking to buy new wine glasses, any recommendations about brands and models? I’m looking for versatile and not to fragile. Any advice?

 In any case, and until next time, Cheers !

The Ramblings : Wine Blog Awards, reference lists and unusual wines

Ramblings time.  A few thoughts and links that don’t really warrant a full post but that might however be of interest.

Wine Blog Awards

WBA_logo_rotator

You can submit your favorite wine blogs for the 2014 Wine blog awards. There are a few different categories (best blog, best writing, best post…) and it’s a good way to discover new online resources. If someone wants to submit Wine Ramblings in the Best New Blog category, I probably wouldn’t mind. I have to say the number of submissions is already impressive, there is such a big network of wine bloggers, and it’s hard to stand out.

Here’s the link http://wineblogawards.org/submit-your-favorite/

Milestones

Speaking of numbers and recognition, I recently passed 100 followers and 2000 views on Wine Ramblings. Granted these are not huge numbers but they are milestones nonetheless and I am happy to reach them. Also, granted, all 2000 views might have come from my mom (Thank you Mom!) but still, at least it shows my mom is dedicated! More seriously, I want to think everyone who read likes and shares my content. A special thanks to people who comment because, well, I like discussing things.

Grape variety reference list

On a less self-serving note (Yes, I do feel bad about shameless plugging and horn tooting), here is an interesting resource, pretty much every wine variety in the world explained by Jancis Robinson. It is a really good, free resource for wine lovers, especially when you end up facing more obscure grapes. Robinson is one of the authors of the World Atlas of wine which is probably the most common reference book; in any case, it is the one I currently use. Here is the link http://www.jancisrobinson.com/m/article/a20080829

Weird wines

ritual pinot

It’s an issue I mentioned a few months ago, how do you evaluate a wine that is just an outlier, different and that doesn’t relate to anything you had before? I recently had a Ritual Pinot Noir 2012 from the Casablanca Valley in Chile and I was perplexed. It was super ripe and jammy with in your face prune aromas. I would have never guessed Pinot Noir, not in a million years. It wasn’t bad (I don’t think it was great), it just made me think about whether being typical; being representative of a style is a good thing or a shackle. It might also just have been my Burgundian heritage protesting at this manhandling of Pinot Noir.

 In any case, and until next time, Cheers !

MWWC9 : Fear and Loathing in wine tasting

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Here is my entry for the new Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. The theme, chosen by last month’s winner Jeff from The Drunken Cyclist is : FEAR

Fear and Loathing in wine tasting

I am actually a Political Science major, so I read, learned and studied many a political quote, I especially love the ones that have crossed over to the mainstream and routinely appear in pop culture, like JFK’s “Do not ask what your country,…” and FDR’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself“.

fdr

It’s a great quote, it’s symmetrical and yes, it makes you want to start digging yourself out of economic depression. The problem is, I totally disagree, there are a lot of things to fear! Just look at nature, there are thousands, literally thousands of animal species who could end you in an instant. The sole existence of Australia is a reminder that nature is scary and not to be trifled with. And it doesn’t have to be the big beasts too. Even small animals like snakes or spiders should be respectfully feared.

The point is, from clowns to scorpions, from tigers to IRS collectors, life is filled to the brim with scary things. My personal fear? Heights, deadly scared of heights, even looking at a picture of an alpinist makes me uncomfortable. To be honest, just now, writing about looking at a picture of an alpinist made me vaguely uneasy.

Damn-Nature-You-Scary

But fear in the context of wine? I would not associate those two at the drop of a hat. Part of it comes from the fact that I associate wine with friends, family, dinners and lunches. Wine is what I have with my dad, what I talk about with my uncle, it’s comforting, it rhymes with good times, bonding and being with people I love. Granted, there are some scary people in my family, but they are not so scary when I’m armed with a nice bottle of Ladoix. And I don’t intend the Ladoix to be used as a weapon.

And that is the thing, on a purely physiological level, wine gives you courage. Call it beer goggles or liquid testicles, you are more likely to be bold with after a few glasses of champagne than after a cup of tea (or I’ve been doing tea the wrong way all this time). Wine is the cure for fear, not a cause of it. Many a guy who was afraid to talk to women has found courage in a glass. In vino veritas, sure, but, more often than not In vino animus (veritas: truth, animus: courage).

Then, why did I have that feeling, ever since Jeff chose this theme, that there is a connection? I sense that yes, I should fear wine, I should be afraid, even if I do not know why. I’ve been thinking, I’ve been researching. I drank a couple of very serious bottles, wine that should not be trifled with, wines that should be respected but I did not feel fear as I opened them, I felt elation, impatience. I did not feel fear as I tasted them, I felt pleasure, enjoyment. Where does that fear of wine come from?

After a while it finally hit me. Like many a guy breaking off a relationship, I could tell wine: “It’s not you, it’s me”. I am not afraid of wine, I am afraid I am not good enough to enjoy it properly. I’m scared I do not have the nose or the palate, or the sensibility to drink great wines and taste them to the fullest. I am scared that I am inadequate, a fraud, a poseur. I am afraid to say something when I go to tasting with friends or acquaintances that know more than I do (which tends to be most of them). I’m scared I am going to say something dumb or miss the point. You cannot understand the sheer, unaltered panic of not knowing if this Rioja has medium or medium plus acidity, or if these are really cherry aromas you are tasting.

Worst of all, I think the best way to express my fear, is that I am scared that I do not deserve great wines, that they are wasted on me. The idea that something exceptional is happening and that I can’t appreciate it the right way makes me anxious, and I mean stay awake and freak out about it anxious. I want to work in the wine industry and as I consider my current life, my current job and the life I want, I am scared, scared that I am not going to make it.

But, silver linings and all, things are not so bad! It really helps that I am a huge nerd, whenever I get scared, I recite the litany of fear from Dune:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain”

dune

It always calms me and allows me to think rationally about my fears. Then, I can remember that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear is a sensation that warns you that something is important, that you are in danger. People do not usually fear missing the bus, unless they have to go to an important meeting. Fear shows you that you care about something, that it is important to you.

As long as you use the fear as fuel and motivation, fear can be a good thing. I definitely plan on using mine that way. When I’m afraid I’m not worthy of wine, I just take it as a chance to re-commit myself to become better. I will face my fear, and it will be delicious.

Bacchus and Me, a book review

Recent conversations with friend have put a nasty doubt in my mind. Am I a one trick pony? Is wine all I “do” in my free time? I mean, I learn about wine, I talk about wine, I write about wine, I drink wine. It doesn’t help that last week I also read about wine, finishing “Bacchus and me” by Jay McInerney. Basically it is a compilation of his essays on wine published in House & Garden Magazine in 2000.

mcinnerney

McInerney is a bit of an unusual wine critic in the sense that he is first and foremost a novelist, a fiction writer who developed an interest in wine. His most famous novel is Bright Lights Big City and he is loosely associated with the New-York city writing scene (think Brett Easton Ellis and friends).

I must confess I only read Bacchus and me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, none of his fiction works. The book is extremely interesting. It’s an easy read with short chapters dedicated to a grape, a region, a producer or even a wine in particular. Of course it’s filled with information for wine fans, but the interesting thing is that it’s information useful for beginners and connoisseurs both.

Wine novices will learn what are the varietals used in Burgundy and how and why they differ from the ones used in Bordeaux. More advanced drinkers can learn about advanced techniques or legendary year so there are interesting layers of knowledge for all wine lovers.

To me, a couple things stood out (other than the overall usefulness of the book). First of all, it is extremely well written, as could be expected from someone who is, well, a writer. The metaphors to describe certain grapes or certain wines use everything from rock bands to paintings and make for a very vivid impression. The book is thus very easy to enjoy (even when you read it while riding a busy Red Line train through Boston). The best, or at least the easiest to remember is the way the two main Bordeaux varietals are presented “Cabernet-Sauvignon was Lennon to Merlot’s McCartney”.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com

The second thing is that the book will make you thirsty. Descriptions of great and legendary wines will do that. It will make you wish you had more money or that you were a professional wine critic. What really made it for me is one of the last chapters detailing a series of New Year’s Eve dinners that McInerney had with Julian Barnes and Stephen Fry (among others). I would have wanted to be at that dinner even if they had served water. But they didn’t, the wine line up is nothing but serious : Krug, Lafite, Latour, Yquem, and a vertical of Hermitage La Chapelle from Jaboulet,… You know, nothing special really.

If you haven’t already I’d recommend reading this book. It’s easy, it’s interesting and it’s extremely well written. Oh and it’s funny too. That never hurts.

Weekly Ramblings : MWWC8 & Possible blog changes

It’s time to be true to the name of this blog and ramble a little bit, just a few quick items that do not warrant a full post.

Voting for the latest Monthly Wine Writing Contest is on. The theme was “Luck” and my entry was “A Tale of two Harrys”. Go check the other entries and vote. There is some great stuff in there as always.

I have been busy with work and life and stuff and so I haven’t been posting as much as I want. Being busy is one thing, but, more sadly, another reason I haven’t been posting much is because I haven’t drank much wine lately! I know, scandalous, but also, I assure you, circumstantial. It will be back to normal very soon. I have several dinners, trips and tastings where wine will be prominently featured.

I’m also thinking of doing some maintenance on the blog, changing the layout, creating things, more links… I want to make it better and get more traffic so it’s something I’m researching right now. I’m trying to find some best practices, make the blog better.

Hopefully you’ll see changes very soon. And hopefully, they’ll be good ones.

That’s all for now, some tasting notes to be published next week along with more theory posts and some ramblings. Le vin est tire, il faut le boire !

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #8: Time to Vote!

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge: the Vote! (Almost)

the drunken cyclist

Over the weekend, The Sweet Sommelier, the host of this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC8) let me know that she was having some trouble getting a survey to embed on her blog. She asked me if I could walk her through how to do it. Her blog is over on Blogspot, however, and I can barely figure out WordPress, so I knew there was no chance in Hades that I was going to be of any assistance.

Instead, I offered to hold the vote over here. Now some of you might be crying foul since I also entered the challenge, but I can assure you that I will not fudge the results. (After all there is no money involved–if there were, well–OK, I would still be honest about it. Now if there was a bottle of Salon Champagne awarded to the winner, let’s just say I would be…

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MWWC8 : A tale of Two Harrys

MWWCHere is my entry for the March edition of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. The previous winner was The Sweet Sommelier with a post on the them of Devotion. This month’s challenge theme is Luck. Hopefully i will be more inspired than last month !

Without further ado, here is my Luck entry for the MWWC8 :

Liquid Luck or a Tale of Two Harrys

In one of the Harry Potter novels there is a potion called Felix Felicis that characters describe as “liquid luck”. Now I love the Harry Potter books, but I have to say it right there, liquid luck already exists; it’s called wine, check it out.

Felix-Felicis

I could go down the easy road and just say that wine can get you drunk, sometimes drunk enough to make questionable choices and, in a certain acceptation of the term, “get lucky”. But I will not do that. I mean, I can’t really reach my punch line 6 lines into the contest right? No, I will have to take my time, work it slowly, I don’t care if it is getting late, I could be up all night (to get lucky).

Wine is quite literally liquid luck. In each bottle there is a special wine that only can be made once. Earth, Heaven and People have worked together to produce something that cannot be identically re-created. “Earth” would be the terroir, and granted, you can say that terroir doesn’t change. “People” means the winemaking process, the techniques used, and again, it can be a constant. But Heaven is the weather, and we can all agree that there is a significant amount of chance involved in that variable.

Any wine is a one-time chance encounter between those variables to produce something unique. That’s pretty lucky. Now there’s even more luck involved since another chance encounter has to happen for wine to become a real magic potion. There is an expression, “Lightning in a bottle” to describe the idea of something extremely unlikely happening. In that case, isn’t all wine lightning in a bottle?

The bottle has to meet its drinker. Once again, there are a lot of parameters to consider: how old is the bottle? What conditions was it kept in? Will it be served with food? What food? What mood is the drinker in? It is impossible for the same magic moment between a wine and a drinker to happen twice. In fact, just by drinking a wine, the drinker will change, the experience of this wine making him more educated, never will he be the same person than he was before his first sip.

Luck, or happenstance is also the original reason for some wine production methods. Noble rot for instance, or ice wine, or even champagne were all unforeseen consequences or miscalculations. The fact that champagne wine was sparkling was actually a bad thing as it lead to bottle breaking and exploding, people getting injured and wine getting spilled. Shame. Then someone goes along and invents the muselet and all is well again. Those techniques still came up as accidents but let’s call them happy accidents, shall we? Once more luck is here to provide the unexpected (and the delicious), thank you luck.

Muselet et sa capsule

Muselet : small but important

Sometimes, it even goes beyond luck. Sometimes there is a meet-cute between you and a wine and lucky doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel. Quite possibly, you feel like you have been struck by lightning (the one that was in the bottle). I can recall a couple wines that did that to me. A Chateau Latour 1982 and a Corton-Charlemagne 1978, I should be so lucky (lucky, lucky, lucky) to ever try them again.

I think what it all comes down to is the attitude you bring to your meeting with a particular wine. Do you just go through the motions? Do you expect something to happen? Are you ready to be wowed? What kind of genie will come out of the bottle? To put it in simpler terms, let me let another Harry, not Potter, but Callahan, AKA Dirty Harry provide the moral of this story: “Do I feel lucky punk? Well, do ya?”

Oh, and I do, I really, really do.

A (fun) study in white

Last night’s dinner turned into an impromptu tasting session. This might be the favorite sentence I ever wrote. Unplanned wine tasting session on a Thursday night, it’s called winning. My temporary roommate cooked a chicken with lemon and white wine while a friend and I provided the actual wine.  A couple of other friends were here to provide conversation. Teamwork, it’s always about teamwork.

Wine selection was heavily skewed towards white wines. We started off with a Ritual 2011, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca valley in Chile. Very well made, a little oaky without it being too much, citrus and tropical fruit and a nice acidity along with a long finish.

Ritual-2011-Sauvignon-Blanc

We followed up with a Chenin Blanc from Ken Forrester, the Petit 2013 from Stellenbosch in South Africa. I already tried a South African Steen a while ago and enjoyed it very much and this one did not disappoint. Beautiful green apple, pear and quince without too much acidity, very refreshing.

petit

Next up was another Chenin Blanc, this time from Columbia Valley in Washington State, a 2011 L’Ecole No 41. A different take on Chenin Blanc than the previous wine, with more emphasis on tropical fruit. It was somewhat closer to what a Chenin from the Loire Valley (the traditional home of the variety) would taste like.

swc-2012-lecole-no41-chenin-blanc-mainLg

Finally we finished the evening with a O Rei de Campoverde, an Albarino from Rias Baixas in the Galicia province of Spain (just north of Portugal). It was a first from me, I do not know much about this grape and it was definitely surprising. Lots of citrus (grapefruit mostly) and some mineral character. Need to investigate further!

orei

Anyway, all in all, a superb evening of white wines, singing, great food, new and old friends. I also like the fact that wine took us from Chile to South Africa, back to the West Coast of the US and then to Spain for less than $100 and without leaving my apartment in Boston. By the way, the jet lag was minimal, even with all the “traveling” that we did, hardly a headache was felt this morning.

Safe travels and a happy weekend to everyone.