Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Julieta Campos and the “ephemeral eternity of an instant”

I’ve been reading a lot of crazy books for my “Readings in Global Fact and Fiction” class at Johns Hopkins University this semester. One of the books I struggled with most was Julieta Campos’ The Fear of Losing Eurydice. I had to submit an essay before coming back from spring break, so I chose to write about this book because I like a challenge… and I like writing about things that frustrate me. The essay might be a little wonky, but here it is…
I have no idea why these dancers are on the cover. 
As a foray into the inner caverns of consciousness, The Fear of Losing Eurydice is not an easy book to follow. While navigating my way through this literary labyrinth I found myself asking lots of questions: Who’s speaking? Where in the world are we? Do physical laws apply here? What time is it? Does time exist in any meaningful sense? Wait, who’s speaking again?

The Fear of Losing Eurydice is not an artistic interpretation of the world as Campos knows it. Rather, this “novel” is a unique blend of the literary, the philosophical, the surrealist and the avant-garde. Campos, a lifelong student of all things literary, uses an array of established forms and mechanisms to shape her own anti-form. But the resulting literary construct, however it’s ultimately defined or categorized, is of little importance. This book is about getting consumed in a maze of love, desire and the voyeurism of writing.

This text is deeply philosophical but by no means dry. Campos frequently gets lost in the expanse of her own descriptions, leading the reader into a state of sensual and intellectual overload. Here is Campos describing what I believe is a scene from a dream: “Excessive, obsessed, proliferating mirrors, which will multiply gestures many times and play with the ghosts of other presences, witnesses who will imitate the gestures of still others.” Here she is describing a Caribbean street that may or may not function as a time-space vortex as well: “The pavement, softened by the heat, gives off a light vapor that slows the speed of bodies and retards timepieces as if an invisible apparatus were projecting something that, outside of its own space and its own time, must have been happening elsewhere and in another temporal sequence.”

Identifying and deciphering a specific narrative point of view is nearly impossible — which is what I think Campos was trying to accomplish. One of the reasons it’s so difficult to understand who is speaking is because Campos bestows consciousness upon everything, persons and inanimate objects alike. To follow Campos’ language is to enter a dream-like state of mind where individual consciousness cedes way to a collective consciousness. Like the raucous combination of cheers before a headlining band takes the stage, this mass voice simultaneously drowns out and amplifies the individual voice.

Campos doesn’t try to tell a single story, but a series of stories that, taken together, attempt to encompass even more. “To tell the story of the couple is to tell the story of another couple which is another story, but it is the same one,” Campos writes. However, this expansive approach, coupled with Campos’ highly stylized language, makes it hard to ascertain what, if anything, is actually happening. Cause and effect have little to no meaning in Campos’ narrative. Desire rules all. Physical actions stemming from this desire are less important.

Monsieur N. is the only real “character” in this novel. An aloof French professor, he sits at the Minos Palace café somewhere in the Caribbean, talking to himself, imagining things, grading his students’ papers (which are translations of writings by Jules Verne). One actual “event” that occurs in this story is when Monsieur N. draws a picture of an island on a cocktail napkin. This simple act of bored creation opens up a rabbit hole through which Monsieur N. and the reader fall into alternate worlds. A love story takes shape alongside the story of people shipwrecked á la Robinson Crusoe. It’s all thoroughly ridiculous.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wine Book Review: "Into Wine" — a Testimony of Terroir

“But out of all the obscure nonsense infused in the world of wine, there is one word I’m in love with — one word the French language had the elegance to give birth to and to nurture. That word is: terroir.”

“… there is no understanding wine if you don’t have a good grasp of what terroir means.”

“Le terroir is what turns wine lovers on.”

For Olivier Magny (Parisian sommelier, wine educator and entrepreneur) terroir is a way of life. It’s a set of values, an active stance one takes in defense of place and authenticity. Into Wine, Magny’s forthcoming book, is a terroirist’s manifesto.

What is terroir? Like inner peace, love and punk rock, it’s a term that has different connotations for different people. Inasmuch as the word can be defined, I like referring to terroir as the collaborative effort of Mother Nature and humankind to capture the essence of a specific place and put it in a wine bottle. Magny likes American wine writer Matt Kramer’s translation: “somewhereness.” Magny later uses this generally-accepted definition: “Terroir is the essence of a place — its signature.” But for Magny, terroir is more than just the taste of slate and minerals in an Ürziger Würzgarten riesling. “Terroirism,” he writes, “is about doing the right thing, for yourself and for others, for the environment and for the community.”

If the word is loosely defined in the positive, perhaps terroir is best understood for what it is not. Magny considers pesticides and herbicides forces of anti-terroir. A large portion of the book is spent detailing how pesticides and herbicides harm the soil and denigrate the environment as a whole, all the while creating a culture of mass production and environmental apathy. “One of the biggest enemies of the expressions of terroir in wine,” Magny says, “is irrigation.” Shipping grapes from one region and sneaking them (legally) into a wine from another region is an act of anti-terroir. Filtration, oak chips and other winemaking tricks can rob a wine of its terroir.

One of the reasons I love this book is because Magny’s views on terroir, sustainability, organic viticulture, etc., largely correspond with my own. But even if you disagree with some of Magny’s points, this book will get you thinking about key aspects of the terroir culture, and that’s a good thing.

But Into Wine, scheduled for release April 19, is more than just a love poem to terroir. Magny does a good job explaining the basics of the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôllé system of regional classification. He breaks down the different chemical processes of winemaking, gives advice for newbs on how to decipher wine labels, and lays out a helpful list of wineries around the world that practice biodynamic farming. The text is littered with interesting little info boxes, statistics, charts and stories from his wine travels. And Magny offers answers to 25 wine FAQs, including: What are sulfites? What is the sediment in the bottle? What do you think of Californian wine? His answer to the later — “Overall, overpriced!!” — is a little ridiculous, but, hey, he’s French.
If you’re looking for a textbook on wine varieties and regions, this is not it. If you’re thinking about getting “into wine,” if you’re mystified by this notion of terroir, if you’re curious about the interrelatedness of wine and environmental sustainability, hell, if you just like to drink the fucking stuff, read this book. Along with touring vineyards and attending copious amounts of wine tastings, this book is a good place to start a wine journey. Writing of his own travels through Wine-Nerdistan, Magny says, “studying wine was not just about Pinot Noir or Merlot, but also about plant biology, chemistry, history, geography, marketing, agronomy, etc. If I wanted to be good at what I did, I had a great deal to learn.” If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. Pop a cork, pour a glass, crack the book and just enjoy life.

Photo courtesy of Olivier Magny.
Into Wine also includes a brief history of Magny’s project O Chateau, a wine tasting school and wine bar. In 2009, for example: “We moved into an old wine cellar near the Louvre. After launching Wine Dating evenings for singles in Paris, we get invited to host the first Milanese Wine Dating and make Italy’s main news show (drunk).” (What the hell was I doing in 2009 and why wasn’t I bumming around these events in Paris and Milan?) In 2012, the O Chateau Wine Bar received a prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, and Bonjour Paris named it “the best wine bar in Paris.” Not too shabby.
Despite being a Parisian, Magny has a relatively petite ego and little to no patience for snobbery. To him, growing, making, studying and tasting wine is all about increasing net happiness, not impressing a bunch of stuffy, overcompensating douches. Magny comes off as the type of guy you’d love to share a few glasses with, which is probably why O Chateau has been so damn successful. And Magny’s democratic approach to wine tasting spills over into his writing style, which is whimsical and cheeky. He quotes Goethe, George Carlin, Henry Ford, Count Dracula and others. He calls B.S. when he sees it.

He also falls into gimmick mode a little too often, for example, inserting three different footnotes into a 16-word sentence. Some two-page spreads have 10 different footnotes, which has a dizzying effect and distracts from Magny’s fast-moving trains of thought. (I recommend reading the book as I did, finishing the two pages of text and then going back over the footnotes.) Magny also frequently uses the cliché of comparing of wine to women. “Just like a woman, wine has bad hair days.” Proper crystal stems are “wedding dresses” for wine. “Wine is more than the sum of its parts, and that’s also why it’s so glorious (just like a woman).” One bottle is “a Californian cougar with fake boobs.” While I understand how this language could bother some women , I tend to think it’s pretty harmless, perhaps a bit lazy from a writer’s perspective. It’s also not incredibly surprising because — did I mention? — the guy’s French.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Dessert Syrah from Italy's Heel

For me, wine is all about exploration. I love exploring different regions, different grapes and different styles of winemaking. So when I came across a dessert-style syrah from the southern Italian state of Puglia, I had to try it.

I picked up this 2008 Alberto Longo Il Griccio (Italy, Puglia) for $10 at auction, and the pleasure it brings is worth far more than that. (The wine retails for around $25 for a 500ml bottle, which is still a good deal.)
Made from 100% syrah, the grapes are harvested and laid out to dry so the sugars concentrate, similar to the process of making the northern Italian wine Amarone. The dried berries are then pressed and the concentrated juice and skins are allowed to ferment in stainless steel. The resulting wine is 16% alcohol and this wine contains 6 grams of residual sugar. Then the juice is then aged in French oak barrels, which give the wine a toasty-chocolatey character.

And what a unique wine it is. Aromatically, this stuff is awesome: sweet blackberries, raspberry tart, fig paste and a mineral-rocky aroma. Notes of olive and raisins came out with time. On the palate, there’s a lot of sweet fruit, but it’s still tart, reminiscent of wild blueberries, blackberries and currants. The tannins are firm and the acid is surprisingly fresh, making this balanced and effortlessly enjoyable. Lots of secondary earthy, herbal and tar flavors come out, but they’re also mixed with raisins, caramel and fig paste. A bit of smoke lingers onto the finish, which is long and balanced. One of the most unique dessert wines I’ve had in a very long time. Absolutely delicious. I rated it 91 points non-blind.

I only bought one bottle, but this wine is definitely worth revisiting over the next few years, preferably on a cold winter night by the fireplace surrounded by a plate of desserts and/or strong cheeses.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Celebrate St. Paddy's Day With Irish Whiskey

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I celebrated early with the DC Whiskey Walk.
It’s St. Paddy’s Day weekend! Did you think I’d be posting about wine? Well, not today.

Today, we’re talking whiskey, Irish style. I’ll confess: I’m a single malt Scotch guy. I like my Islay malts with tons of sea brine, peat and campfire smoke. I rarely drink Irish whiskeys, which generally take a smoother, more floral approach to this beatiful distilled spirit.

But on a recent sunny, 60-degree March day in DC, drinking Irish whiskey sounded awesome. The DC Whiskey Walk mixes together Dupont Circle’s best Irish bars and pubs, lots of people wearing green and a whole lot of — duh! — whiskey.

I tasted through a few whiskeys with some friends and, obviously, had a great time. I’ve listed the whiskeys I tasted in order of preference, from lowest to highest…

You’ve seen the commercials. You’ve taken shots at bars. You know Jameson. When you drink Jameson and compare it with other whiskeys, however, the harshness really comes out. Not recommended unless you’re looking to get plastered cheap.

Ah, Powers Gold Label. For a mass market blend, you could do a whole lot worse. Creamy body with notes of red apple and honey. A bit harsh on the finish, but it’s still enjoyable. A go-to for cocktails.

Sweet aromatics and flavors of green apple, honey and a distinct rich caramel note. Medium length on the finish. Much better than the entry-level Jameson.

Smooth, sweet, rich and floral. The spicy and nutty notes from the American oak barrels make this whiskey stand out from others. Delicious stuff.

A really smooth whiskey with lots of floral and honey-caramel aspects. Not the most complex whiskey, but for those who dislike the intense smoke and peat of Scotch, this elegant and smooth whiskey is a good way to go.

A floral whiskey with smooth with notes of pine sap, orange peel and sweet herbs. Impressive depth and complexity with a long, malty finish.

This whiskey shows a ton of complexity. A honeyed, silky, yet bold approach, I love the notes of caramel, orange blossom and toasted oak. Long, floral finish. Terriffic for sipping neat or on the rocks. One of the best Irish whiskeys I’ve tasted.

Anyone drinking any good Irish whiskey this weekend? If so, let me know what you’re drinking and what you think of it.


Review: Laurent Martray Brouilly “Corentin”

If you don’t know Cru Beaujolais wines, you’re missing out. These wines, made from 100% gamay, bear the name of their village (or Cru) on their labels: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. They’re some of the freshest, juiciest, mineral-driven red wines in the world, and, when compared to their Burgundian pinot noir counterparts, they’re screaming values.

I recently enjoyed a 2007 Brouilly (pronounced something like BREW-YEE) from Laurent Martray called “Cuvée Corentin.” I don’t know if there’s a better way to spend $10 (the price I paid at auction). Laurent Martray farms 5 hectares (a little more than 12 acres) of vines in the granite-laden soils of Brouilly. He produces three cuvees, a Côte de Brouilly “Les Feuillées,” a Brouilly Vieilles Vignes and this Brouilly “Cuvée Corentin.” The Corentin comes from 60-year-old gamay vines in a vineyard that was first planted in 1927. It’s only a mild stretch to say you can taste the history in the glass.

(France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Brouilly)

Ruby-purple color. Tight upon opening, but slowly the aromas came out to show dusty sour cherries, red clay soil, rose petals. Tart red fruit kicks off the palate, like biting into cranberries and currants, and the acid carries the wine all the way through. Dusty tannins provide structure and a solid streak of minerals pervades this wine, like crushed granite and limestone. Some mushroom notes are starting to develop with age, and a nice earthy note lingers on the finish. I’m not a huge fan of 2007s in general, but this is showing nicely. It’s not done yet, but I’m not sure about aging it much longer.

88 points

This bottle is further proof that Cru Beajolais offers some of the best values in the wine world. And with great vintages (2009, 2010 and 2011) still on the shelves, there’s no better time to explore the Crus.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Virginia vs. Other Wine Regions – A Blind Taste-Off

This year I’m planting my own vineyard in Virginia with the hopes of one day making my own chardonnay. The site is located on an historical mill house property in Virginia’s Central Region American Viticultural Area (AVA). It’s a sunny hillside composed of sand and clay that overlooks a beautiful creek and mill pond. This whole endeavor is nothing more than a hobby — I hope to make a miniscule amount of wine to drink with friends and family — but I mention this project to demonstrate my faith in Virginia’s terroir. Yup, I just used Virginia and terroir in the same sentence, and I’m not being sarcastic. What of it?

Virginia is one of the most diverse states in the country. It has beaches and mountains, cold streams full of trout and warm catfish-packed ponds, a vibrant death metal scene and some the most conservative evangelical institutions in the country. Virginia wines are no exception to this rule. There are dozens of fruit wines with cutesy labels and lots of cheap plonk sold in grocery stores, but Virginia winemakers are also making every conceivable style of chardonnay and some Bordeaux style blends that are capable of rivaling big California bottles  not to mention the successful experiments with lesser-known varities like petite manseng, viognier and tannat.

At least that’s what I’ve come to think since I started drinking Virginia wine five or six years ago. The idea behind this “Virginia vs. The World” tasting was to put these notions to the test. Hosted by the Washington Wine Academy, one of the nation’s premiere wine schools, the theme was quite simple: pit Virginia chardonnays and cabernet-based blends against similar, comparatively-priced wines from other regions all across the world. For chardonnays, we tried to stick to the $18-$35 price range, and $25-$55 for the red blends. To ensure the wine tasting was as objective as possible, the wines were all brown-bagged and tasted blind. We lumped the Virginia and world wines together into two flights, tasted through them, wrote our notes, scored them and finally unveiled the bottles.

Virginia is an incredibly diverse state. This map shows Virginia's different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).
Several other oenophile friends, wine professionals and writers, many with extensive experience with Virginia vino, attended the event: David White (Terroirist); Frank Morgan (Drink What You Like); Christian G.E. Schiller (Schiller-Wine); Aaron Nix-Gomez (Hogshead Wine) and others.

Well, let’s get down to the wines. (Note: Prices are estimates.)


2010 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay Estate Grown - USA, California, Napa, Carneros ($20)
Corked. That moldy, TCA aura underlines everything else. The cork taint isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it’s still ruinous. (FLAWED)

2010 Domaine Roger Luquet Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes - France, Burgundy, Mâconnais, Pouilly-Fuissé ($20)
This wine smells underripe, like green apple peels, grapefruit rind, but there’s also a distinct grass and chive note that reminds me more of sauvignon blanc. The palate is light and tangy, lacking depth and complexity. Citrus rind, Sweet Tart candies and green onion linger on the finish. Not bad, but a bit weak. One of the few 2010 Mâcon chardonnays I haven’t gotten too excited about. (82 points)

2010 Ox-Eye Vineyards Chardonnay - USA, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley ($20)
Sweet aromas of cotton candy, cateloupe, honeysuckle and just a hint of sea breeze, which I like. Plump and soft on the palate. The green melon fruit is mixed in with nougat, hazelnut and coconut. Lacking serious complexity, but a solid chardonnay nonetheless. (84 points)

2010 Ankida Ridge Chardonnay - USA, Virginia ($32)
On the nose: honeysuckle, green pears and a mix of bright floral and citrus peel notes. The palate is bold and creamy, but not overbearing. Some honeycomb and graham cracker flavors accent the green pear and buttered popcorn. A bit flat on the finish, but overall a solid chardonnay. A self-described “family-run micro vineyard” located at 1,800 feet, this chardonnay has piqued my interest in Ankida. (85 points)

2010 Linden Chardonnay Hardscrabble - USA, Virginia, Northern Region ($33)
This chardonnay shows a richer, more extracted nose of peanut shell, bruised yellow apple, some nougat and honeysuckle. Round on the palate but medium acid keeps it balanced. The flavors of yellow pear, whipped honey, peanut and pina coloda taste a tad sweet. Overall a nice wine, although I didn’t enjoy this vintage as much as I have other Hardscrabbles. The fruit comes from the Hardscrabble Vineyard, which sits on an eastern slope of the Blue Ridge in Fauquier County. At an elevation of about 1,300 feet, the vine age ranges from 16 to 25 years. (86 points)

2010 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay Karia - USA, California, Napa Valley ($30)
Aromas of white peach, pineapple and green melon. Medium-bodied on the palate with ripe pear and melon fruit, but the wine maintains a softer overall package. Creamy finish with notes of caramel and honeycomb, but not too oaky or thick. A sleeker styled wine that clocks in at 13.5% alcohol, this chardonnay is aged 8 months on the lees in 29% new French oak. Several tasters commented that this wine tasted "manipulated," and I see where they’re coming from, but I enjoyed its approach. (87 points)

2010 Domaine Des Moirots Christophe Denizot Montagny 1er Cru Le Vieux Chateau - France, Burgundy, Côte Chalonnaise, Montagny 1er Cru ($25)
Complex on the nose, offering a mix of orange blossom, honeysuckle, flinty minerals and a note of kiwi. Zestier than the other wines, with great acidic cut. Flavors of lemon curd, green apple and pear fruit, highlighted by subtle cream and nutty flavors. Long, mineral-laden finish. This was my favorite wine of the flight, and the group’s as well. Might be a little unfair to the other wines because 2010 white Burgundies, even ones like this that cost around $25, simply rock. (90 points)

Cabernet-Based Blends…

2006 Le Baron de Brane - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux ($20)
Aromas of sweet black cherries, Laffy Taffy candy and green pepper. The combination isn’t my favorite. Strangely thin on the palate, with medium acid and tannins. That black cherry fruit plays with earth and dusty flavors. Thin and a bit medicinal on the finish. My least favorite wine of the flight, which came as something of a surprise considering the appellation, although I’ve never been a big fan of 2006 Bordeaux. (80 points)

2008 Chateau O’Brien Padlock Red - USA, Virginia, Central Region ($24)
A strange mix of sweet and savory aromas: candied cherries, raspberry jam and a dead ringer for sweet Amish pickles. Seriously, it smells just like sweet pickle relish with spices. The palate is tangy and sweet, showing raspberry jam and, again, that sweet pickle aspect. Rhubarb and smoke linger onto the finish. Not a simple wine, but not all that well-rounded either. Serious points for originality. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petite verdot. (82 points)

2009 Château D’Aiguilhe - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Côtes de Castillon ($30)
Very ripe on the nose: sweet plums, purple Gushers candy, red licorice, notes of sweet incense. A fruit-forward wine to the core, with lots of toasty mocha accenting the candied plum and cherry fruit. Yummy, but not the most balanced wine. I guessed this as a Virginia red because of those sweet fruit notes. I was surprised to see this was Bordeaux, but it’s a modern-style from a really ripe vintage, so it makes sense. (85 points)

2008 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon - USA, Virginia, Central Region, Monticello ($48)
Smells like cassis, black cherry jam, smoke and rhubarb. The palate shows tangy acid, bright tannins and creamy red and black fruit (currants, raspberries). Some nice toast and tobacco on the finish. Perhaps a bit too thin to be great, but a very nice Bordeaux-style blend for sure. A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. (86 points)

2007 Boxwood Winery Topiary - USA, Virginia ($25)
Aromas of smoke, cassis, dirt, leather and a hint of pickle. The palate shows soft tannins and creamy currant and blackberry fruit. Raspberry jam mixes with toasted oak. Very ripe and forward with a hint of tobacco on the finish. The group liked this far less than I did. (86 points)

2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley ($25)
Deep, alluring aromas of fig, loam and earth. Medium-grain tannins, medium acid, this wine shows delicious fig paste and cassis flavors, backed up by herbs, green pepper and dusty earth. Fruity, but quite complex. A blend of 33% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 14% malbec and 6% petit verdot. (88 points)

2008 RdV Vineyards Rendezvous - USA, Virginia, Northern Region, Fauquier County ($55)
And the winner is RdV’s Rendezvous, a blend of 35% merlot, 32% cabernet sauvignon, 21% cabernet franc and 12% petit verdot. Dense aromatics, with some air it opened up to show blackberry, chocolate-covered cherries, sweet roses and toasted oak. The palate displays medium acid and delicious flavors of cranberry sauce and blackberry jam. Dry, firm tannins provide structure, as the waves of secondary flavors come in: chestnut, pepper, mocha and a hint of olive. Impressive depth, this wine will most definitely get better with three-to-five years in the cellar. Congrats RdV! (89 points)

Monday, March 11, 2013

For the Hopeless Romantics

The worst mistakes I’ve made have been the ones directed by sweet-natured hopefulness.

As my mother once told me, “They’re quite crazy, dear — men are. What you look for is one of them whose insanity is large enough, and calm and generous enough, to include you.”

The above quotes come from two different women, Kathryn and Diana. The women are referring to the same man, Bradley, whom they both marry for a brief time. Bradley is one of the dozen or so romantics in Charles Baxter’s novel “The Feast of Love” who tastes the bittersweet flavors of love.

Simply put, this novel is a masterpiece. Baxter’s insight into the hearts of men and women alike is astounding.

Every chapter starts off with a bit of uncertainty, as the first-person narrators take turns telling their stories. This could lead to confusion if Baxter wasn’t such a fucking amazing writer. A king of formal complexity, Baxter digs deep into a myriad of complex relationships and comes up with gems. He moves from one character to the next, but no two first-person narrators write in similar styles. Baxter has arranged perfectly the pieces of this love puzzle, and he maintains such effective control over the language that the reader is easily able to differentiate between all of the characters and relationships.

You know what? I’m not going to attempt to break down the characters and relationships in this novel. It would be tedious to read (and to write), and would most likely necessitate charts of the flow and pie variety. Instead, here are a few quotes (and brief character summaries) that exemplify Baxter’s profound analysis of this thing we call love.

A young woman named Chloe tries to make sense of her life after the loss of the man she loves:

“… I walk past these houses and I see all these domestic arrangements, I’d guess you’d call them. Women living with women. Women living with men. Men living with men. Women living along. Men living alone. Sane people and crazy people, people who have lost what once remained of their minds. The crazy ones are mostly crazy because love made them that way. I believe that.”

“Love is the first cousin of death, they’re acquainted with each other, they go to the same family reunions.”

Bradley, trying to figure out why he always ends up heart-broken:

“In truth, there are only two realities: the one for people who are in love or love each other, and the one for people who are standing outside all that.”

The novel is set in Michigan, and here’s a character commenting on the setting:  

“Because it’s the Midwest, no one really glitters because no one has to, it’s more a dull shine, like frequently used silverware. We were all presentable enough, but almost no one was making any kind of statement. Out here in Michigan, real style is too difficult to maintain; the styles are all convenient and secondhand. We’re all hand-me-down personalities. But that’s liberating: it frees you up for other matters of greater importance, the great themes, the sordid passions.”

And lastly, here’s one from Harry Ginsberg, a confidant and student of Soren Kierkegaard:

“The unexpected is always upon us. Of all the gifts arrayed before me, this one thought, at this moment in my life, is the most precious.”

That’s all I’ve got on this novel.

Women and men, the lonely and the fulfilled, the single, the divorced and everything in between, if you’re a romantic, read this novel and understand the beauty of Baxter.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Grab Bag of French Reds

I’ve been sipping a lot of New World wines of late, so I figured it was time to go back and check up on some French reds. With so many diverse regions and stellar vintages, I like to keep up with how Burgundy, Rhône and Bordeaux wines are aging. A Bandol (a mourvèdre-based wine from Provence) is thrown into this report as well because it’s too damn amazing not to write about. Cheers!

2005 Domaine Tollot-Beaut Chorey-Côte-de-Beaune (France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chorey-Côte-de-Beaune)
Medium ruby colored. Aromas of raspberries and tangy red currants, along with dried flowers, sage and mushroom. With time I picked up more beet and bay leaf aromas. (Reminds me of Kyiv!) On the palate, tangy acid lines up with medium-grained but firm tannins. Flavors of tangy cherries, raspberries, mushroom, sage and pepper. There’s some toasty oak in here too — it’s aged for 16 months in 20% new oak — but it’s balanced very well. Long finish with notes of pickled beet and green coffee beans. This wine is really hitting the spot, but I could see aging it for another two years. A very impressive pinot from the relatively humble Chorey-Côte-de-Beaune appellation. I’d never heard of this producer, but they are on my radar now. (89 points)

2006 Domaine Gachot-Monot Côte de Nuits Villages (France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Nuits Villages)
This pinot noir shows aromas of incense, white pepper, roses, sour cherry, sage and herbal liqueur. The palate is tangy, with firm tannins. Sour cherry and cranberry lead the way to bitter coffee, herbal liqueur, iron and rich loam. After two hours I started picking up more bay leaf and cinammon notes. Wow, for a basic Côte de Nuits Villages appellation this is showing a lot of class. Long, pristine finish. I’m really liking 2006 Burgundys right now, but they (and this wine in particular) could still stand a few years in the cellar. Serious structure here. A steal at auction at $15! A Kermit Lynch import, no wonder it’s so good. (89 points)

2001 Château Malescasse (France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc)
Currants, beet root and savory herbs on the nose. The palate shows fresh acid and fine tannins on a medium-bodied frame. Flavors of currant and earth lead, but very distinct flavors of dried tobacco, oregano and dill pickle come out with air. Well-aged, perhaps nearing its peak drinking window, but a fun wine with some unique flavors. Lacking depth and intensity to be great, but I drank this with a sub after a cold day of surfing and I was happy, especially considering I picked it up for less than $20. (87 points)

2005 Château de Pibarnon Bandol (France, Provence, Bandol)
I first tasted this hearty Provencal red in 2009 and loved it. It’s only gotten better and still has an easy ten years of maturation ahead of it. Pretty brick-ruby color in the glass. A bit tight upon opening, but after two hours in the decanter, this baby started to sing. Aromas of bacon, smoke, iron, grilled herbs, menthol and a distinctly sweet note of lavender. The aromas are so complex and inviting. On the palate this wine shows tight tannins and a glycerin-like mouthfeel, but with the medium acid the wine maintains terrific balance. Flavors of blackberry puree and cranberry sauce mix with a host of earth and animal flavors, loam, graphite, roasted pork and sweet herbs. Notes of smoke and lavender linger on a very long finish. The best Bandol I’ve ever had, and it’s nowhere near the end of its life. 90% mourvèdre and 10% grenache. (94 points)
It's not every day I find a Cotes-du-Rhone that is
widely available, cheap ($12-$15) and seriously good.

2011 Saint-Cosme Côtes du Rhône (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône)
Aromas of red and black plum, white pepper, crushed rocks and smoked meat. Absolutely beautiful on the nose, and it got more expressive with two hours of air. On the palate, this wine shows strong tannic backbone, balanced by acidic verve throughout. I love the mix of fruit flavors (black cherry, wild raspberry, plum skins) with the earthy and savory flavors of charred meat, white pepper, tobacco leaf, graphite and anise. The mineral components, the length of the finish and the overall complexity give this wine so much more than your basic Cotes-du-Rhone bottle. An unbelievable bargain at $12, this deserves some sort of Screaming Value Award. It also deserves some age, because there’s some serious flavor packed in here. I’ve read that this is 100% syrah, but I’m not 100% sure of that. (90 points)

2007 Domaine La Millière Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
Aromas of red and black plums, blackberry sauce, mixed in with roasted red pepper and notes of charred earth. After an hour, I started picking up more fig paste and bay leaf. Full-bodied, the tannins aren’t fierce, but they provide decent structure. Medium acid makes this much more balanced than some other CdPs from the hot 2007 vintage (by the way, the alcohol content is listed as 12-14%). Blackberry and raspberry flavors mix with dark chocolate shavings, toasted chestnut, earth and roasted meat. With time, flavors of fig paste and smoke came out. Smooth on the finish. Bold, but for a 2007, this is showing some restraint. I like the toast and earth notes on the finish. A very fine CdP that I’d like to taste again in two years. (90 points)