By Denman Moody
Although the subtitle has nothing to do with the article, it made me laugh and that’s what’s important. Now on to demystifying wines!
Sixty years ago, there were few people in the United States who regularly drank wine with their meals. Conversely, in Italy and France wine was considered an uncomplicated, civilized and simple pleasure that accompanied every meal.
Changes began to occur in this country when soldiers returned from World War II with some newly acquired knowledge of dining with wine. But it was just a start. Even by the early ’70s, I remember that most customers at a good steakhouse preceded dinner with a mixed drink and did not order wine.
Contrast that to today. Oftentimes there is a bottle or a glass of wine on virtually every table. A large part of the catalyst for this change was the effort of French and Italian restaurants all over the country.
It was not obvious that things had changed dramatically until the early to mid-’80s. By then, Robert Finigan, Robert Parker and Denman Moody, the three favorite wine writers of Food and Wine magazine at that time, had been publishing their newsletters for five years or more. And wine columns began appearing in newspapers around the country—not just in the major metropolitan areas.
At about the same time, a small undertaking called The Wine Spectator was purchased by Marvin Shanken, and has now become a remarkably successful endeavor. In fact, the behemoth now publishes more than 300,000 copies each issue.
Along the way there have been several well-meaning writers who may have hampered the progress of wine enjoyment rather than enhancing it. For example, one writer insisted on publishing misinformation such as the following (these are not quotes, but you’ll get the general idea):
“X” wine – Open 25 minutes prior to drinking and then re-cork between servings so as not to overaerate.
“Y” wine – Refrigerate for one hour and 40 minutes and then open 12 minutes before serving.
“Z” wine – Open one hour and 15 minutes prior to drinking to let breathe properly, and do not re-cork between servings, as it needs to continue to aerate.
I’m sure that many readers bought into this malarkey, thinking that there must be an exact amount of time for “aerating” and chilling that each wine needed prior to being served. Believing that wine was some esoteric substance only understood by the cognoscenti, some readers probably just gave up, or worse, pawned off this spurious information to others as if it were wine gospel.
There are, of course, some general rules concerning wine temperature, and there is room enough for an elephant to wander through on the subject of whether “breathing” is necessary or mostly bunk.
Finally, the first screw caps that appeared on premium wines were greeted with derision; however, studies in the last year show that a substantial percentage of wine consumers have accepted them, and for good reason. This simple change and the growing acceptance thereof is another step in the education process.
I sincerely believe that with the proliferation of top-notch journalists, the vast increase in the quality of wines, and the enthusiasm of the public for wine knowledge and enjoyment, we’re on the right path to being able to, as a nation, enjoy a bottle of wine with a meal as an uncomplicated, civilized and simple pleasure.
Recently Tasted Winners:
Le Petite Perriere Sauvignon Blanc Pierre Archam (Loire Valley) 2009 – Subdued bouquet with none of the over-ripe gooseberries or heavy-handed grapefruit flavors of some Sauvignon Blancs. Refreshing middle taste followed by refined, crisp finish. Try with goat cheese or veggie salad. $20
J Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2008 – Hand harvested and gently pressed to minimize extraction of harsh components. Both indigenous and cultured yeasts and a long, slow fermentation allowed maximization of fruit expression. Elegant, yet powerful. $28
La Follette Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2009 – Very much a white Burgundy look- alike (Puligny-Montrachet)? This wine comes from a vineyard planted in 1998 by third-generation farmers. Grapes were picked, pre-sorted and harvested on Oct. 12, just hours before the first autumn rains! Aged in French oak for 10 months, the wine has citrus and melon flavors with excellent minerality. Only 835 cases produced. $29.99
Chappellet Chardonnay Napa Valley 2009 – Lovely tropical fruit flavors from one of the oldest and best Napa Valley wineries. Lovely mouthfeel and ripe fruit matched with crisp acidity and the perfect touch of spicy oak. $32
Corbieres Blason D’Aussieres Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) 2008 – “This wine marries finesse and elegance with a marked Mediterranean personality.” This tantalizing blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan is both delightful and a great value. Our new “house red”? $18
Alta Maria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2009 – Dramatically reduced yields from unusually dry growing season and an early harvest has resulted in a worthy successor to the excellent 2008. A wellbalanced Pinot with black cherry and strawberry highlights. Drinking perfectly now. May only be able to find this at the winery. www.altamaria.com. $28
La Follette Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2009 – Made by winemaker extraordinaire Greg La Follette with all wild yeasts, this top Burgundian-style wine has cranberry and raspberry fruit with a hint of mushrooms and earth, tender tannins and juicy acidity resulting in a “smooth, palate-caressing mouthfeel.” Try with roasted chicken. Tasted with Greg La Follette at Haven on May 23, 2011. $29.99
Tudal Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Clift Vineyard Napa Valley 2008 – From a tiny 2-acre vineyard (only 290 cases produced) in the Oak Knoll District, this beautiful, well-balanced wine with 14.1 percent alcohol has lovely fruit and supple tannins for current drinking, but should improve over the short and intermediate term. One of the best values in Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Competitive with the $60 to $80 crowd! $45
Nickel & Nickel Syrah Darien Vineyard Russian River Valley 2008 – Night harvested in late September insured the fruit remained cool and of maximum quality. Gorgeous plum, berry and spice with a perfect complement of oak. “Tender” tannins add to the harmony of all components. Perfect with prime rib. $50
Dolce Napa Valley (375 ml) 2006 – My wonderful wine pal, the late Gil Nickel, set out to create a wine to rival the premier dessert wine of the world, Chateau d’Yquem from Sauternes, France. With his vision, his skills and knowledge of plants, and the help of his acclaimed winemaker Dirk Hampson, he did just that. On more than one occasion, I have served a Dolce next to an older, but equally excellent vintage (Yquem need more time to fully develop in the bottle), and in each case, a majority of tasters gave Dolce the blue ribbon. Ripe peaches and pears with honey and figs, with a hint of butterscotch and apricot nectar. Try after dinner by itself or with crème brulee or flan! Possibly the most beautiful, elegantly-designed wine bottle in the world. Perfect Christmas or birthday present for an enophile. $75
Smith Woodhouse Port 1994 – From ideal weather conditions causing a world-class vintage, this fortified desert wine exhibits a deep, purple-black color with enticing aromas and rich, black cherry flavors. Fabulous texture on the palate and an elegant, luscious, sweet finish make this a huge winner. Serve now and over the next 10 to 20 years. Perfect with fruit tarts, chocolate cake, or just about any dessert except ice cream. $85