Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Scylla, Charybdis, and Cleavage Creek

Okay, I'll grant that the cat bottle was pretty awful.

Learning about wine and, now, blogging about wine, also means learning about wine blogging. At present, I regularly consult three wine blogs, all of them interesting, well written, and containing good basic information for the neophyte. There are hundreds of wine blogs out there, of course, in English alone, not to mention the hundreds more in other languages.

I find that it doesn't take much for a wine blog to go too far over my head for me to enjoy it. So very many people seem to come to the table -- or the internet -- with so much experience already; they are able to post briefly about some new Domaine de Gloire Cuvee Reserve, and how the winemaker has clearly sold out to this interest or that, because now a formerly balanced wine is flabby, or a formerly delightfully simple wine is now overstructured, etc., etc. They do it all in one paragraph and their readers then comment with just the right virtual nod of the head. "This has been going on for years ... sad to see it reach Domaine de Gloire ... try Domaine de Joie down the road."

So I am not yet ready to venture deep into the wine blogging woods, where these sorts of perplexing discussions go on, and where dwell great names and mighty forces that I have heard of only. Alice Feiring ... Eric Asimov's The Pour (at The New York Times, no less) ... Doctor Weingolb. The three places that I do go to are Vinography, Dr. Vino, and Fermentation. This last -- and I will be truthful -- happens to be written by the nice man who also runs the Wine Blog Awards. This past week and more, though, I have had fun following events orchestrated by the equally nice Dr. Vino, who wrote a post asking readers to offer suggestions and pictures for a Worst Wine Label Competition.

Now this is my speed. I was the first to reply, and my offering was the label for Orin Swift Cellars' The Prisoner, a wine we have sold at the store. It's ghastly. The label, I mean. The wine, a zinfandel blend, is heavy and delicious.

My unappreciative comments about the label sparked some discussion at Dr. Vino, which was fun, and now The Prisoner label is a finalist in the competition. Do go and vote, if not necessarily for my choice. As a matter of fact I did not, because I had to give my vote instead to something better, something I had never seen before, the phantasmagorically ugly Cleavage Creek. It's a cabernet sauvignon, but who would care.

The third finalist, alas, is another wine we have sold in the store, a Riesling called, in our inventory, Moselland Cats, more correctly Zeller Schwarze Katz. I say "alas" not because I'm sorry we've sold two of the three "finalist" wines in this contest -- the Cats riesling does not even have a label, it just comes in a cat-shaped bottle, admittedly not to everyone's taste -- but because the man who suggested the label also avers that this riesling is a bad wine. "Right up there with Liebfraumilch," he says.

Oh, dear. I kind of liked this wine. It may lack the richness I remember from the rieslings I tasted at my first professional, industry-sponsored tasting in Chicago some months ago, but it seemed nice enough for all that. And if it is made in conformity with German wine laws, which insist that a Qualitatswein must show certain characteristics before it can be labeled and exported as such, then why don't we trust the integrity of those laws and the people working under them? If this is the ordinary lunchtime drink of ordinary Germans, why isn't it good enough for us?

As always, the untried oenophile is caught between what we might grandly call Scylla and Charybdis in the wine-dark sea. Wine is a healthful everyday pleasure; but wait, wine is a miracle of complex glory that must be appreciated, -- which takes effort. (Tom Wark, in today's Fermentation, puts it beautifully: wine is not just an "alcohol delivery vehicle." It just isn't.) Oh, and wait, always remember -- it's dumb to like the sweet stuff. The other day, in the store, I fumed righteously to myself as I put away bottles, because yet another customer had refused to try a riesling. Oh they're sweet. It wasn't the cat riesling, either, it was something -- I feel sure -- a little better. I thought, ignorant as I am, that if anyone asked me to testify what is the difference between a truly amateur wine drinker and someone who at least promises to develop in interesting and joyous directions, I would say the difference is that an amateur, someone unserious about wine -- which is to say, someone joyless -- will not try a riesling.

Then again, I began my wine self-education with the wild-eyed Wine Avenger, who loves rieslings and snorts at newbies who vow they want "a nice dry wine." I think it was Mark Twain who once noticed that ninety percent of anyone's personality is comprised of what he has read, or heard, or absorbed from outside himself, and the other ten percent at best is truly the man himself, soul and all. In that case, when it comes to wine, I suppose I'm ninety percent Willie Gluckstern. Oh dear.

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