Wine List Theory vs. Practice

I don’t wish to embrace with a link so much hate and insecurity, so let me link to one of the more reasoned responses I have read.

Here is mine:

Birichino, naughty

who has the right? cult of the winemaker cult of the artist. uppity servant classes.

uppity unlettered unserious wine drinkers

our club, its codes

ESPECIALLY in california where the abuse of words are par for the course: Demeter. Varietal. HEARTY BURGUNDY.

dining out: anxiety

going to a movie or a play : anxiety

author author! regisseur. yes chef! (internalized hierarchy popularized)

play. surrounded by riches. don’t act like your hobby is reduced in any way by someone violating your rules. you can still have your rules.

winemakers have the right (even duty) to withhold their bottles, especially when the judgment is related to the ultimate gastronomic experience. (withholding wine to manipulate the market is less excusable, but since its impossible to separate these, let each decide.

this is like kindergarten. andy warhol is being shamed by a mob of children enforcing general rules of stick figure composition.



Archive: text fragment from 2011

I want our wine conversation to acknowledge the role that simply “liking” has to do with, well, that which we like. 

Certainly merely liking or not liking takes us nowhere particularly interesting. These determinations do not lead to understanding, and that is why I avoid wine tastings and sampling exercises in general. “I like.” “I don’t like.” They are like arbitrary binary commitments, self-imposed restraining devices designed for consumer obedience. I live in Detroit in part to escape that system. 

Furthermore, I would not enjoy wine without our somewhat ideological emphasis on “natural wine,” as difficult to define as that term is. Aside from providing meaningful insight into various scholarly domains such as history and evolutionary biology, understanding natural wine lets me skip over enormous quantities of meaningless filler and minor frauds so that I can reliably and routinely enjoy a bottle without sampling it first. Because I don’t want to sample. I want to drink and talk.

But an over reliance on theory runs the risk of obscuring a vital truth: we are, each, a little empire of taste. We are sovereigns of our own intuition, whether connected to our palates or any other sense. It even occurs to me that this may itself be an expression of a preference, for democracy and participation, but I’m going with it.

The most rewarding professional moments for me are when understanding and taste seem to be shared. This can happen in trivial exchanges, such as finding a better-than-average value for someone who prefers something industrial. And it can happen on a more grand scale, developing over time, connected to other distant sentient beings, and in symmetry with a close friendship. Like ours! 

And indeed, the greater my fortune of wine drinking friends, the more aggravating I find those interactions with sellers who seem obstinate in their refusal to “get it.” This is all the more true when a server or rep summons forth some “organically grown” tripe, as if I’m *supposed* to like that crap.

he mentioned that he was not keen on the direction d’Oupia/Heretiques has taken since Andre Iche’ died. He feels the wine now is a concession to the rampant fashion for over-extraction and more-than-optimal ripeness. I can see what he means even if I can still enjoy the wines. We live in different towns, with different wine choices, and I think that can explain the difference in our judgment as well as anything.

On the phone you mentioned Giocato Pinot Grigio. It is something you would

Paleo-Avant Chard


We live in a bipolar world of Chardonnay.

For most people the grape was once synonymous with a style of wine that tasted like butter and tropical fruits. In recent decades a backlash came and it is now firmly entrenched. It turns out Chardonnay can also be clean and crisp. So now Chardonnay can mean entirely different things to different people. Yet we are stuck with one brand. And modifiers don’t seem to help: oaky Chardonnay; buttery Chardonnay; French style Chardonnay. When it comes to good Chardonnay, these clunky formulations are usually misleading and counterproductive.

I’ll have a Chardonnay.

I’ll have something that is not Chardonnay.

Unfortunately the schism is driving intelligent consumers out of the category, and this is having the predictable effect of improving Chardonnay’s value. Supply and demand seem to have an exaggerated effect on wine markets.

Pair all of this with 1) the grape’s relatively good expression in various wine growing regions of California, and 2) a modern wave of new winemakers who work small and who understand, and this might be the best time in a generation to be drinking wine made from this grape.

Lioco Sonoma County Chardonnay is a natural wine.

Short Name: Chardonnay
Full Name: 2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma County
Producer: Lioco
Geography: Sonoma County, California
$12 glass, $36 bottle
Varieties: Chardonnay
Description: Salted lemons and ripe pears and apples. Silky texture, substantial bouquet and overall elegance.
Comparables: Really no need to compare this to anything other than “Chardonnay.” The terms “White Burgundy” and even “French Chardonnay” might be mentioned, but technically they don’t really mean anything stylistically. Compare Domaine de Bongran, Cordier or Roally in the Macon – unctuous and exotic – to Meursault – chiseled and timbered – to Petit Chablis – sour and mineral, and how does that make a useful antithesis to anything? But yeah, if someone wants to be lazy and describe this as “French style,” ok. Especially if French style means commitment to natural fruit virtues and winemaking humility. Of course it IS a California Chardonnay, and California deserves the credit. We can only hope more winemakers emulate the approach.
Pairings: As a stand-alone drink, with charred octopus, fried chicken, and anything with avocado.

Rhone and Biodynamic


Short Name: Red Rhone
Full Name: 2012 Le Petit Coquet
Producer: Domaine Chaume-Arnaud
Geography: Southern Rhone Valley, France
$10 glass, $30 bottle
Varieties: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, etc
Description: Spiced berry reductions with silky tannins. Analytically it is perfectly dry; but allow a sample to anyone looking for “sweet red”? Take a poll and share your results.
Comparables: I’ve always thought this kind of wine had something in common with jammy old-school red Zinfandels, though it is more elegant than that. Also there are both organoleptic and deep historical comparisons available to big-ticket biodynamic red Burgundy from a warm vintage (when was the last time YOU drank DRC Echezeaux?) and, by extension, ambitious too-ripe New World Pinot Noir.
Pairings: Forgiving with a lot of foods. It might overwhelm the more delicate and lunchable choices. Stews and meats are the strike-zone, but it works good with the cheese course and fried chicken too.
Interesting Technical Facts: This estate is certified Biodynamic in France. Legalities aside!