The Full McCarty

“Abbey Ridge is one of the oldest vineyards in the
venerable Dundee Hills of Oregon; the oldest vines
are now 25 years old and it is exclusively from these
vines that we produce the “Abbey Ridge” designate.
The reason becomes obvious when tasting all of the
various lots of wine in a particular vintage from this
vineyard: there is so much more going on in the
mouth when one is tasting old vines wine.In all, Abbey
Ridge has around 22 acres and of this approximately
15 in Pinot noir
The most important part of the wine-making is that the
Abbey Ridge had three beautiful women who did a
pigeage of the wine (ie took off their clothes in the
time-honoured French tradition and entered the warm
fermenter at the height of its fermentation)! I am
certain that this was very good for the wine as it was
very good for the winemaker! I can’t remember who
climbed into the Clos Electrique fermenter!”

It is entirely possible that my naked visage exists somewhere on a unsavory German web site. It’s a long story.

When I was a young wine salesperson, one of the first road trips we took was to the Willamette Valley. Our first stop was Cameron, in the hills above Dundee, just a right turn at the Nuthouse (a.k.a. Argyle Winery) and then look for the unwelcoming entrance. It was an evening stop, for a rustic dinner and elegant wines. I tire of all the references to Cameron winemaker/owner John Paul as eccentric or a character. So what if he has dressed up like Martha Stewart. He seems perfectly sane to me in a world that appears intent on losing it’s marbles. John Paul was a gracious host, patient with so many rookie sales-persons. We knew the stories. Here is where one truly becomes one with the wine. There was the visit in the early days. Only a half dozen employees in the novice firm. A visit to test the waters, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. Samples were poured, guards were let down. It was late fall and the cap needed punching down. What else to do but the natural thing – strip and submerge.

It is said that the original idea of hot-tubbing came from abandoned wine fermenters in California. But an actively fermenting tank of Pinot is quite warm and bubbly, I can assure you. We did not engage in the act of pigeage that year. There were too many young souls, and owners who were suddenly aware that they had a real live business on their hands. It was bacchanal but not Caligularian.

A few years later I took a week off work to volunteer at crush time. Most of my time was spent in the nut house, at Argyle, where we worked hard, ate well, and worked on our abs. (Volunteer to work the business end of a punching down paddle, if you want to know what I mean.) After a week of 14 hour days I took for the hills. I pulled into Cameron an unexpected volunteer. I worked hard, and earned some respect. John Paul made an announcement, not as a pontiff, but as a tired boss. “Well, we need to punch down those caps.”

“Um, can I do it John?” Fine with him, the Tom Sawyer of cap punching. I stripped down and showered off quickly. Me and a paid worker climbed the scaffolding and got in the tank. It was warm and prickly and decidedly lacking in oxygen. We worked on opposite sides of the tank, pushing the thick cap down with our cupped hands, laboring through the slurry that is Abbey Ridge to be. Did I mention we stayed on the opposite side of the tank? I mean, we were yin and yang, baby, and never the twain were going to meet in that mixture.

The wine came up to my low hips. I would have been happier to have had a bigger harvest, I mean a little more juice in the tank. I was working up a sweat by now, and we were nearly done with our labors. Then I heard the sounds of German men speaking rapidly. And power winders on camera’s with long lenses. “Um, John Paul, were you going to tell us about the German camera crew coming to do a feature on the winery?” “Hmm.?” No, I guess not. I’ve just become a Lucy episode.

I still enjoy telling people that I have had an intimate relationship with wine. They need not know just how intimate. I’ve drunk the last of my 1995 Abbey Ridge, long ago. And no, I do not, after skipping a daily shower, find myself breathing deeply and reminiscing over past vintages. Come on people, wine is a natural bactericide! It is good to be intimate with wine, for we, after all, are intimate with it. And lest you let this article dissuade you from trying one of the excellent wines from Cameron vineyards, you would do well to remember that fourteen percent of alcohol kills off just about anything. Not to mention the tannins.

Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 6:52 am  Comments (2)  

Transcendental Vinification

Most individuals who become what one would call “serious” about wine can relate their experiences back to a single, transcendental wine. For me it is easy. I had come to like wine very much. I had tasted many good wines, and had, since high school, been exposed to good wines and food pairings through work in restaurants, but none of those experiences is what I would call sublime.

I was working as a waiter in a now defunct Greek restaurant (“You! Go clean all the stainless steel!”) when I started hanging out at what was then the only wine bar in the Pacific Northwest. Enoteca was a subterranean haven for those who loved wine, as well as for cockroaches and sewage, due to the previously mentioned subterranean-ism and the construction of the Seattle bus tunnel. Housed in the Times Square Building, in what was once the presidential campaign headquarters for Bobby Kennedy, the structure was a sort of miniature flat iron building. There must have been something about that building, because Enoteca was a special place. Enoteca served 40+ wines by the glass, preserved by a huge industrial gas cylinder of argon, hooked up to a bleeder valve, which we would use to displace the oxygen in open bottles. A combination wine shop, wine bar and restaurant, customers could choose from any bottle in the shop and have it served for only a $5 corkage fee. The menu changed daily and was determined from what was fresh at the local Pike Place Market, and was printed on a rickety dot matrix printer. This probably sounds quite ordinary, unless you are in 1980’s Seattle, when the Spaghetti Factory was considered an exotic dinner out.

As you can probably surmise by reading between the lines, I eventually ended up working at Enoteca, but before I began my tenure I was a solitary customer at the wine bar. I would usually order a tasting of 3 or 4 glasses, taking amateurish notes in my pre-moleskine double entry ledger journal. The notes were brief, crude, and uncertain. Then came the wine. The vintage was 1976, harvested in my freshman year of high school. The region was Sauternes. Chateau LaFaurie Peyraguey. The color was golden, like pale honey, but unlike honey there was nothing cloying or simple about its scent. They say that our memories are stored in areas near our olfactory centers, and that is why a smell can trigger a memory of past events. Proust smelled a cookie and ended up with seven books out of the deal.

I couldn’t stop smelling the wine. I would taste it – and the taste was sublime – but the smell is what hooked me. You begin to be reluctant to taste when a wine’s aroma is so enticing, and, thus, you begin to savor it. It was one of those experiences, like having a word on the tip of your tongue, where you can remember a scent, but can’t quite place it. I knew it was something from childhood. I was six, or seven. It was morning, and there was a sense of spring and excitement to go outside. There was citrus fruit, but also cream, and something exotic. And then I had it. Trix are for kids. It was that first bowl of forbidden cereal. The decadent, sweet, yet citrus, creamy pre-BGH bowl of Trix in a bottle. Keep your cookies Marcel, I’ve got my own memories.

Published in: on February 11, 2008 at 2:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Blessed by Dr. Cosimo

Salice Salentino
The good doctor Cosimo Taurino was a hulk of a man. His son is a hulk, and his wife and daughter too. The last of the Titans. He came to visit the Pacific Northwest in the mid 90’s, while I was a salesman at Noble Wines, Ltd., in Seattle. Neither he, nor any of his family, spoke English, so we relied on a translator, but the real communication was through wine and gestures – the international languages. I had found two bottles of his 1978 Patriglione standing at attencione in a Safeway store on Whidby Island, lingering the slow death of misunderstood wines in an unappreciative market. They were relatively cheap, for wine nearly 20 years old, so I bought them.

When I found out Doctor C. was going to be visiting I brought one of the bottles to the meeting. A rookie then, I could sense the tension from my bosses when I asked the interpreter to explain to Doctor Cosimo that I had a bottle of wine I would like him to try to let me know if it was any good. The Patriglione label was different then, sporting the same blue and red colors as on the current Salice Salentino, and it was packaged in a funky half breed bottle more akin to the shapes you see in red wines from the Loire. I drew the cork out, noticing a deep purplish black stain saturated far into the core of the cork. I was relieved not to pick up any off smells, and plain grateful that the cork hadn’t failed after such a long time traveling to strange destinations. I poured the good Doctor a glass and waited. His countenance was similar to a mafia don deciding whether you were going to live or die. He tilted the glass to a 45 degree angle and inspected the purplish color of the wine, slowly lowering his giant proboscis into the small tasting glass. He swirled the wine deftly a couple of times then took a deep sip, holding the wine on his palette for what seemed a long time before swallowing. All were stone quiet at the table looking at The Boss. In a sudden movement of surprising grace and power for such a large man, Dr. Cosimo threw his chair back and stood up like a bolt of lightening – now towering like Zeus over the tasting room. Very quickly he crossed himself, looking directly at me.

Doctor Cosimo turned to the interpreter and began speaking rapidly in Italian. “Perfecto” was the only word I gleaned. “Did I have any more bottles which I could sell him?” the translator asked. “How did I come to acquire this bottle when he, the creator, had none left?” No, I had no more bottles, I lied. From the meager sample I poured myself, after sharing the bottle with the rest of the sales-force, I knew I wanted to keep my other bottle to myself.

I drank my remaining bottle a few weeks later. I had it with some lamb chops, broiled simply with rosemary and black pepper. The underlying sweetness of the strong wine was a perfect foil for the lamb, and it served double duty as dessert wine with some sharp cheese. I remember raising my glass – a solitary toast to distant shores – and with a crooked smile I thought to myself, “perfecto, Doctor C, perfecto.”
The Boss
“The Boss”

Published in: on February 3, 2008 at 9:08 pm  Comments (2)  

The Philosophy of Wine

There is an apocryphal tale of an ancient Persian king who stored some particularly good grapes in a jar that he then marked “poison”, lest someone eat them.  He forgot about them, of course, and when a despondent girl in his harem decided to kill herself, she drunk greedily of the jar.  She did not die.  She, instead, got high, and feeling better she shared her findings with the king.  She became his favorite.  He invented viticulture.  Then organized religion got involved and nearly spoiled it for all of us. 

This is not, of course, how wine was invented, but it has some truths in it. The first wine was most likely mead. It is not hard to imagine some primitive man or woman finding a beehive, perhaps in a hollow of a tree, which filled with rainwater and fermented naturally. Accident and discovery always seem to play some part in art and science. This blog has come about by accident, and I hope it will lead to discovery – both on my part and yours. Wine, it is said, is its own living organism, and so too, it would seem, is the Internet. Let us hope it flowers and grows a little more before it all turns sour.

Published in: on February 3, 2008 at 1:45 am  Comments (1)  

Wine is history. Tasting is knowledge.

Published in: on February 3, 2008 at 1:28 am  Comments (1)