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Old habits die hard

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At Waterbar Marilyn and I ordered a platter of oysters and when our Italian server looked to see who wanted the wine list, naturally I extended my hand. For nearly 40 years in my relationship with Marilyn I’ve been “the wine guy” (Marilyn has her own expertises) but I’ve never been so arrogant as to assume I should do the ordering for her. So after I decided on a Muscadet de Sevre et Maine for myself, I handed the list to Marilyn and she picked a Pouilly-Fumé—another good choice.

When the wines came I had to try them both with the oysters—that’s what I mean by “old habits die hard.” This is a little snobbish and must strike certain people (although not Marilyn, who’s used to it) as eccentric, but what can I say? It’s what I do. Wine-and-food pairing is integral to the soul of the wine lover. The Muscadet was as good with the bivalves as I’d expected. It was cold, light and bracing, steely to the point of mineral, and in the tang you could taste the wind from the Bay of Biscay that washes over the Melon de Bourgogne grapevines.

One hundred eighty miles to the east, also on the Loire, is the source of the Pouilly-Fumé. This growing region, along with neighboring Sancerre, yields what the British writer Andrew Jeffords calls “some of the very greatest incarnations of Sauvignon Blanc.” It’s a cool area, climate-wise, but not as cool as in Muscadet, and nowhere near as cool as, say, Marlborough, which is why you rarely get that methoxypyrazine smell. Instead, Pouilly-Fumés are generous in fruit, and seldom oaky. Compared to the Muscadet, the wine was rounder and softer, and I was surprised that I preferred it to the Muscadet, which was a tad too dry for the sweetness of the oysters.

It’s impossible to talk about this stuff with anyone except another wine lover. Baseball fans go on and on about ERAs and who’s on the IL. Politicos are obsessed with races in Kansas’s 2nd and Virginia’s 7th districts. Tarantino freaks argue about whether The Hateful Eight is superior to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Foodies debate who makes the best tacos in town. But leave it to winos to worry about whether Muscadet or Pouilly-Fumé goes better with oysters!

And yet this is who we are. If you recognize yourself in this scenario, don’t apologize for it. Yes, we have to keep our obsessions under control: it would not be right to pull this stuff at, say, the Thanksgiving table, when Aunt Ethel and Uncle Jerry just want to enjoy the turkey and stuffing, and not be subjected to a Talmudic debate on wine. But when we’re in the rarified company of our own kind, feel free to let loose.


Putting wine into a greater context

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When educators talk about wine at the kinds of consumer events I’m doing this week at Karisma Resort, it seems to me that more than just the hedonistic and technical aspects of the wines should be discussed.

I mean, wine is more than just “cherries” or “limes” and bright acidity or steak-worthy tannins and an AVA. Yes, those kinds of things—its flavors and textures, it’s varietal mix, its appellation—are important, and consumers want and need to know about them. After all, the reason why folks pay to go to these sorts of events is because they’re hungry for more knowledge about wine (and bless them for that!).

But there’s so much more to wine. For example, it’s important for people who are tasting wines from the company I work for, Jackson Family Wines, to understand things like the Jacksons’ commitment to sustainability. It’s one thing to talk about (for instance) Stonestreet Christopher’s Cabernet Sauvignon, but that wine needs to be put into the context of the fact that Jess loved that mountain so much, he’s buried there, his wife, Barbara, lives there, and “Christopher” is the name of their only son. It helps consumers to know about (and I think it’s terribly interesting in itself) how Jess left corridors of pathways open throughout the vastness of the Alexander Mountain Estate, to let the critters who have lived there forever—cougars, bears, deer, wild boars and so on—prowl. These things may not have anything to do with the wine’s flavors, or how it ages, or the way it pairs with steak. But in a funny way, they do. It places the wine into a greater context, one you can call “intellectual” and “emotional” rather than (merely) hedonistic; and it’s in the brain—the seat of intellect and emotions—that wine’s greatest appeal lives.

This putting-wine-into-greater-contexts presents more of a challenge to educators. They have to do more research than to just read a tech sheet and regurgitate it to whatever audience they’re addressing—which is something I’ve seen far too much of (and something I admit to being occasionally guilty of myself). But, after all, in this day-and-age of “the story,” when we’re told that every wine needs something to distinguish itself from every other wine, it does behoove us educators to go beyond the routine and really find out what makes that wine that wine. Especially when the story connected to it is compelling.

Back tomorrow, reporting from this delightful part of the Maya Riviera.


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