In case you're wondering: Yes, I am enjoying vacation. This week is the warm-up, spent in my girlfriend's family's summer house on the danish west coast. Friends and family come by, stay a few days and head on. It is all about relaxation, good food and wine and the occasional bath in the freezing cold north sea. As far as the wines we've opened and enjoyed this week there have been many. I will give you some brief notes further down. But first off, I think this is as good a time as any to explain my philosophy on drinking.
A drinker's manifesto
All professionals in the wine trade claim that alcoholism will never strike them, and to an extent I can agree with the sentiment. As long as I care about quality, and rather pour poor wine into a sauce than drink it, I feel safe. At the same time, addiction is very real. I can wake up in the morning and long for great Riesling. Many might think this is all snobbish, but they are probably not the target audience for my ramblings anyway, and can for all intents and purposes should probably stop reading now.
Even if you can successfully evade physical addiction, you only have one body, one brain, one liver. The physical damage from ingesting a bottle of wine a day on average should not be underestimated. I respect it very much, and try to live soundly in most other aspects of my life.
But even if I can mitigate some of the deleterious effects of alcohol in the long term with otherwise healthy living, I still suffer the short term ones. Hangovers are no fun, and I am not a fun drunk; I get tired, irritable and slow of mind if I get too much.
So my philosophy is that there is a finite amount of sips, and I try to make every bottle count. There is a tired old cliché in the wine world that goes something like "Life is too short for bad wine", but this is usually uttered by people whose wallets ensure that they don't have bad anything. Trust me when I say that I do not have access to that wallet, even though oftentimes I drink like I do (which in my mind makes it even more enjoyable). I do spend a very large proportion of my income on wine. What you do not see is that my wardrobe is only updated when absolutely necessary, that my wine cabinet takes up one tenth of my apartement and that my car is a bike (and one bought used). It is all about setting the right priorities.
What I mean by making every bottle count is that I want to learn something from every wine I drink. A perfect bottle of wine will teach me something about a grape, a region, a vintage or a producer. Being delicious is not enough. Telling a story is just as important. Sometimes this means spending more money than I can reasonably afford on "benchmark wines" (as star sommelier Rajat Parr brilliantly expresses it in his book Secret of the Sommeliers) when dealing with Bordeaux, Champagne or Bourgogne. But this also means that I spend great focus and passion on the unsung heroes of the wine world, like the fantastic wines of Galicia that I have been writing about, which is just as much of a benchmark in a sense.
In the isolation of this summer getaway, focusing on these wines and the impressions and emotions they bring forth is clearer. There is less noise, less intrusion, more time for introspection. I can revisit some of these bottles the day after. While I thoroughly enjoy the buzz of a mild intoxication with friends and family, these wines have also taught me something about the world and myself. Thank you for that, tenders of vines and makers of wine!
Here is some notes on a trio of red wines enjoyed with dinner two nights ago.
2009 Dard & Ribo, Hermitage, Rhône, France
René-Jean Dard and Francois Ribo are icons in the world of natural wine, working with few alterations and a philosophy of making wine to be drunk, not kept. I will get into my position on the natural wine scene sooner of later (but for now I am utterly tired of discussing it - it's old news). Let is just be said that I like a handful of these producers a lot and I've been a fan of these guys for a while. Still though, I had not tried their Hermitage before. This was served to me blind. The imprint of the grape was powerful with smoky meat, ripe blackcurrant and a touch of greenness, which brought me right to the Rhône valley. It was too rich and not floral enough for Côte Rôtie. The palate was so juicy and velvety that combined with the expressive varietal and regional character it could not be much else. I got the vintage wrong (guessing 2010) but the rest right.
Now, this wine got us thinking and talking. Even though we could all agree that it was delicious in its own right, was this really a "worthy" Hermitage? It was so soft and easy drinking. Hermitage is supposed to back a certain punch, and this was all velvet, no glove.
I did manage to come very close to guessing the wine correct blind, so some might say the terroir shines through, but in reality I felt the imprint of the winemaking more than anything and made a qualified guess based on the percieved quality level. Proponents of natural wine make the claim that the winemaker is taken out of the picture letting the terroir speak for itself, but I digress, I very often feel "natural wine" before I sense if it is based on Gamay, or Côt or Carignan.
In conclusion, this was a great bottle, and the first of the reds we emptied. I can certainly recommend it for the pure hedonistic factor, but I do not feel it represents Hermitage terroir very well, and I would rather point towards the equally delicious and much less expensive St-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage from this producer.
2005 Domaine de Montille, Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, Bourgogne, France
I wrote more about the domaine in a previous post.
I hesitated for a long time about opening this, and rightfully so. It was hard, unyielding and frankly, quite unappealing. Too angular and harsh, not enough fragrance and warmth, mirroring many of my experiences with this Grand Cru and with the vintage as well. Not bad, but not exceptional. 30 hours later, the last half of the bottle has transformed into something quite different - and very beautiful. Wild forest raspberries and deep red cherries on the nose, along with a lovely dark floral note and warm oriental spice. The palate also seems fuller than the evening before, and although there is still a dark, brooding aspect to it, there is enough sweetness and richness to counter. I had my doubts about the aging potential after the first taste, figuring it would be one of those wines that never come around. I had my ass thoroughly handed to me on that one. If you have these, hang on for a few years and you will be rewarded.
2005 Château La Conseillante, Pomerol, Bordeaux
I also opened this (a few hours in advance) with a sense of dread. Would it be ready? My fears disappeared as soon as the cork was pulled. GOD DAMN! What a nose: it is packed with sweet black plum and dark cherry, liqourice and milk chocolate, tar and tobacco, violets and dried herbs. So open and expressive. It is warm and suave and borders on what I like to call slutty, but there is true grace beneath all that plush fruit.
Granted, I have not has enough Petrus or Le Pin or some of the other greats, but I keep coming back to La Conseillante as my most trusted estate in Pomerol (it also fits my wallet much better). This bottle was very close to perfect, and once again a much needed reminder that Bordeaux can not be discounted or forgotten, even though it seems like (we) sommeliers try hard to hype just about anything else. You can keep this for many years, but I recommend anyone who has some to open one bottle now and revel in this beauty.
More notes to come! Enjoy summer, and choose your bottles with care!