Notes from the Cellar: Off-leash observations

by Jeff Cox, Wine and Beer Merchandiser

This article was originally published in September 2007

Back on the porch after an at-large romp, I’m rather disinclined toward any sort of expository organization. But since Dada probably isn’t going to fly in this format, I’ll split the difference and attempt a set of (possibly) complete sentences.

V is for vineyard. And verve, vibrancy and vitality. Some vineyards have it, some don’t. If you look, you can see it and you certainly can taste it and it means everything in your glass.

Next time you’re road-tripping in wine country, look at the vineyards. The perfectly manicured ones with nary a weed in sight are like rows of soulless soldiers. This is the wine division of agribusiness, where nature is drugged into submission and the wines deliver flavor profiles according to the business model and marketing plan.

Meanwhile, the vineyards with stuff growing between the rows look healthier, happier and quite a bit more rambunctious. They’re a greener green and seem to have almost a mind of their own. (They do.) You can almost smell the proverbial sap rising.

Minerality is the latest buzzword, the new “terroir.” Predictably, the wineries that shout the loudest about it usually are the ones whose wines have the least to offer. That is unless French oak has recently been declared a mineral.

In the department of sweeping (but generally true) generalizations:

Napa is Wine Disneyland — on as many metaphoric levels as you care to count. Sonoma and Napa are next-door neighbors, and different planets.

A representative of a well-known Carneros winery (Napa side) recently remarked to me that “it’s a whole different political world on the other side of the Sonoma County line.” Sure enough, if you stand in Carneros and face north, the right/left orientation is uncannily accurate. And that’s just on the surface.

If you want bang for the buck, Euros often are the ticket. French, Spanish and Italian wineries operate in an entirely different financial universe and it’s stunning to taste the quality and character available for a very modest price. It seems bizarre to drink great Burgundy for less than Oregon Pinot Noir — but I’m not complaining. I’ll just count my blessings.

Wine is best when shared with friends. Great wine invites thought and conversation, and the wine’s facets are revealed in talking about it, evoking still more contemplation and discussion.

It seems to me that there’s no such thing as too much thought or dialogue. And lo (later on), Bacchus also made beer because after all that wine, it seemed like a great idea. He was right. (See Sierra Nevada: Brewing good things, September 2007, Sound Consumer.)

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