Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Learned that I Know Nothing About Wine

The more I learn about wine, the more I realize that I don't know.

This was also true when I played a lot of chess, when I was getting into economics courses in grad school, basically anytime I've undertaken anything of any import. Even within the wine regions I know, I don't really know anything. I guess it requires some degree of experience and knowledge to understand how much there is that I don't know. For example, it's impossible to understand the vastness of chess until you study the game for a while. Same is true with wine, I would say. Exciting and frustrating at the same time, isn't it?

The other night I was lucky enough to go to Keith Levenberg's Wine-fest and BBQ, and I had one of those "I am clueless" experiences with wine. I tasted so many wines that are new to me. There were about 20 people present, most knew each other already, and everyone came with at least two bottles. I had never met any of these folks. They know each other from the E-Bob message boards, NYC wine dinners, and other wine-geek events. Very nice people in general, and lots of interesting wine. And Keith grilled up some delicious food too - lamb meatballs, several kinds of steak, watermelon and feta salad, and minty wheat bulgur salad.

I didn't even try to take any notes, so I cannot share the specifics of some of the wines. There was everything from Grand Cru Burgundy to Barolo to Sancerre rosé. Although no Bordeaux, if I am not mistaken. I drank my first Raveneau Chablis, my first Produttori del Barbaresco, and my first Musar. There was a Savennières, a Santaney, a Blagny, and all sorts of other good stuff. And drinking these wines, listening to others talk about them, thinking about them myself...I realized how little I really understand about wine, how limited are my experiences. There was a moment of hopelessness, but then acceptance, and then happiness thinking about all of the learning still to come. Okay, well maybe the happiness was in part due to the distinct lack of any sort of spit bucket.

Here are some of the wines that stood out for me:

1992 Edmunds St John Syrah Grand Heritage. Incredibly delicious wine. So pure, so layered, so satisfying. Out of all these amazing wines, who would guess that one of the most memorable would come from...California?

1991 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard. Smooth as silk, plush, just delicious. Another excellent California wine. Who knew. Do they still make 'em like this?

1999 Chateau Musar. What an amazing wine! Incredibly acidic, but in a good way. Spicy, fruity, vibrant and alive. The light and translucent color completely belies the wine's intensity. This is the one that I must buy for my own cellar.

2000 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. Raveneau...I get it now. Crystalline mineral deliciousness, and with such great depth and focus. I want more, but these wines are over $100 a bottle now. M. Levenberg says that there is great Grand Cru Chablis for under $40, so I might stick with whatever that is instead.

2004 Produttori del Barbaresco. Didn't realize that there are about 10 possible wines this could be - sorry, didn't get the specifics. Whatever it was, it was so juicy and delicious, with very nice acidity. And supposedly ages very well too.

2001 Baumard
Savennières Clos de Papillon. This is excellent wine, very mineral, some tropical notes to the nose. Well balanced and just delicious. I wound up taking what was left of the bottle home, and it was even better the next day.

2002 Domaine du Closel
Savennières Clos de Papillon. Delicious, especially after an hour open. But it clearly will not improve for the next 20 years, something that it is supposed to do. Several tastes commented on the change in style at Closel. Be that as it may, the wine is, utterly beautiful right now. Full of honeyed minerals, nice mellow acids, something herbal running underneath. I should pull the few bottles I have out of the cellar and drink them over the next year or two.

1992 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese **. Pure and lovely with nice orchard fruit flavors, a clean finish that lingers with a bit of spice. I thought it was just great, but my favorite part was watching the experienced Riesling folk in the crowd drink it with this ho-hum reaction. "Good, not great" they said.

The Burgundies were not so impressive, on the whole. For example, there was a 1992 Roty Charmes-Chambertin Tr
ès Vielle Vignes, and it just didn't move me. A 1995 Blagny was fine but not distinctive. The only one that seemed promising to me was a 1999 Geantet-Pansiot Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru, but even that did not have the same captivating factor as some of the other reds. Maybe mature Burgundy doesn't show as well when surrounded by bigger, more obvious wines.

You might be wondering what I brought to this event. I waffled on this. Champagne was my immediate thought, but in the end I went with wine that I assumed would be unique at the tasting, and that might even be new to a few people. 2005 Puzelat Touraine La Tesni
ère, a lovely smoky and funky white made of Menu Pineau, and the 2004 Puzelat Touraine La Tesnière, a red made of Pineau D'Aunis. I love these wines, but let me tell you - they definitely got a mixed reception from this crowd. Some looked at the label, asked about the grape, talked about buying bottles. Others said "I hate Pineau D'Aunis. It leaves my mouth before it gets halfway down my throat." To each their own, right?


Christy said...

Your first Musar! I can't help but comment when I hear about someone has just discovered this wine. It's just so completely unique, wonderful, and a little weird. I remember my first experience with the reds very well and just recently, tried their whites (which I didn't know they had until, well, just recently. The closest comparison would be to old-school Spanish whites.) The distributor is currently offering up some older vintages on pre-sell and I’m so excited to get my hands on a few of them. Musar just evolves forever and even the older vintages are accessible enough price-wise that mere mortals can enjoy them. Man, I love this wine!


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the Produttori del Barbaresco. Even their low end Nebbiolo Langhe is delicious. With the price of Barbaresco and Barolo being what they are, it's nice to find a quality Nebbiolo that I can get for under $20.

Anonymous said...

Ahem. And what of the 06 Lafouge Meursault that you ooh'ed and ah'ed about?

Great to meet you in person!

Director, Lab Outreach said...

There's a guy I know who I reckon knows as much about wine as anyone on the planet... He's studied in Dijon and Beaune, worked in Burgundy, Alsace, Spain, Italy, Australia, California and New Zealand, knows everyone, has tasted everything... or so it always seems to me. Anyway, I had a revelation talking to him not long ago. He feels EXACTLY like you do. It's a 10 post series why (at least!), but wine is a subject that defies expertise. I think it's more about learning to be comfortable with your ignorance (I mean generally, as a philosophical approach to curiosity -- not meaning that I think you're ignorant. You aren't).

keithlevenberg said...

Great meeting you BG and thrilled you could come! The ESJ and Musar were big standouts for me too.

While the white Puzelat did strike me as deliberately weird and not for everyone in a Radikonesque way, I never understood why Pineau d'Aunis is so polarizing. Must be like the cilantro gene, is my theory.

P.S. Your taste in wine is too good for you to be as "clueless" as you're letting on!

Brooklynguy said...

hi christy - yup, very excited about musar. i already grabbed a few bottles of the 99 for safe-keeping. i want to taste the white, especially now that you describe it as similar to, say, and LdH white.

andrew - yup, excited also about PdB. So many different bottlings though, i need to learn a bit more before buying anything.

ASHER!! good to see you 'round these parts, and great to meet you too. i did really like the Lafouge wine (did you notice the photo of their tasting cave on the sidebar?). I just spaced on writing about it - so many wines at that thing. Stay in touch!

hey JD - totally agree. a happy way to live life too, being comfortable with what you don't know.

Keith - thanks again so much for your generous hospitality. And i didn't realize that the white Puzelat is as weird as people found it to be. maybe i've been drinking too much natural wine. I'm not clueless, but there is just so much that i've never drank, or even tasted. i barely know the tip of the iceberg. thanks again, i had a GREAT time.

winedsurfer said...


First,i have to compliment you on your thoroughly enjoyable blog. I used to read many more wine blogs but yours is the only one that I consistently return to now. Kudos.

I can relate to your feeling of knowing less the more that you get into wine. I have only been seriously learning about wine for two years. I am fairly adventurous when it comes to trying obscure varietals, so I feel like I have a pretty broad understanding of the world of wine. But man, just when you think you know something, or even your own palate, a new wine or region comes along to shake up everything you thought you knew. I guess that is what keeps us coming back.

Keep up the good work. I was sorry to hear that you will be cutting back with the eminent arrival of
your new family member. I understand. I have a five and three year old. Nuff said.


Vinotas said...

Sorry to have missed you, it would have been nice to meet. I really enjoy Keith's BBQs, but sadly I was in FL, also BBQ'ing, with some great 2005 Burgs, unlike your Burgs. Glad to hear you liked the Musar, it can be something of an acquired taste, and sad to say for my wallet I have acquired quite the taste for it.

I think everyone, in the business or not, is constantly learning. Anyone who says they know a lot should be taken out back and shot, or at the very least banned from drinking/writing/doing anything about wine. It's a life-long adventure, one we've all just taken our first steps on.

Debra Morgan said...

There are vast bottle variations in the Musar--every bottle you taste will be different--part of the reason I love this wine (and it smells like a horse's patooty)

Brooklynguy said...

thanks very much for those kind words winesurfer - much appreciated. i've resolved to write whatever is interesting and fun for me until new baby comes, and then reassess.

hey michel - another time, then. i read about your florida food and wine adventures - sounds not too shabby.

hi genevelyn- i think patooty has an "ie" at the end, but i'm not particular about it. i know exactly what you mean.

Unknown said...

If it's not too big of a secret, where in Brooklyn can you get Musar?

PS - Excellent blog. I've been enjoying it for a while now.

PPS - I think we may be neighbors? Or at least neighborhooders?

Anonymous said...

To parrot Christy: Your first Musar! One of my favorite wines and as far as I'm concerned, one of the great wines anywhere, red and white both. I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting lunch at Hearth a couple of years ago hosted by Serge Hochar, the proprietor and winemaker at Musar for 50 years. One of the most engaging personalities I've ever encountered in this business, he talked for over an hour while we tasted the reds from 98, 95, 93, 72 and 66, and the whites from 97, 93, 90, and the first white he ever made, a 59! The 72 was a once-in-a-lifetime wine and the 59 white was so alive and fresh, it could have been made yesterday.

Some of these others are also wines i have recently fallen in love with, most notably the Prod. di Barbaresco ( i had a 96 Rabaja a few months back at Tommaso's on 86th st) and Raveneau (was privy to a 92 Mont. de Tonnerre a week ago that nearly gave me a heart attack). Love your blog, you do a great job.


Brooklynguy said...

hi jbh - i have found musar at only two stores in NYC, neither in brooklyn. that said, i used winesearcher and winezap and they are never really up to date. also, i searched specifically for the 1999 vintage. sherry-lehman and crush both carry that wine. there must be other NYC shops who carry red musar. for example, the first commenter on this post, Christy, has a shop and i bet she carries it. your blog looks good too - keep it coming. thanks for your kind words.

hey sam - sounds like a great experience at hearth. you know, i've never been to Tommaso's but i hear the wine list is just excellent. and the place is a real throwback. gotta go sometime. thanks so much for your kind words.

keithlevenberg said...

At $40 I think Wine Library in NJ has the best price on '99 Musar, which is even better for New York customers than a New York store because shipping on a few bottles ends up less than NY sales tax.

Michael D. said...

After reading this great post i was inspired picked up a bottle of the 2005 Puzelat Touraine La Tesniere Menu Pineau--a variety i have limited experienece with. Thanks for the rec. It was delicous and savory all the way through. We had it opened for two days and enjoyed seeing the wine go in all different directions. Cheers!

Brooklynguy said...

thanks for the tip Keith, and that is the lowest i could find also. astor has it for $46 which becomes close to 40 with the case discount, even a mixed case discount.

Hi Mike - thank you for those kind words. Always a pleasure to recommend something that another wine lover likes in turn. Although I am surprised that a natural wine freak like you hadn't already had this one...

Michael D. said...

Hmmm...Unfortunatley Menu Pinot was not readily availible in DC where I worked in retail for three 1/2 years. In fact it is rarely seen outside this market. Dressner's portfolio is very abbreviated in DC and I am greatful to be working in nyc where a "natural wine freek" can continue to learn,grow, and taste the wines from humble artists like the Puzelat brothers. Cheers!! And look forward to reading more on your blog.