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A Chat With Terry Theise


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The legendary wine maven Terry Theise will be joining us for a three-day chat next week beginning Wednesday. I'll be posting a bio later (Terry was named Food & Wine magazine's 2005 Importer Of The Year), but feel free to begin asking your questions now. Welcome in advance Terry!

And here is Terry's homepage. If you haven't read his catalogs, they're literary works of art - he has influenced my writing more than anyone else, with the possible exception of Homer (*).

Cheers,

Rocks.

(*) Simpson

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Terry:

Can you list the local retailers that carry the largest selection of your German and Austrian wines?

While you're at it, Terry, could you mention the restaurants in our area that have a good selection of your wines and make a special effort to promote them? Those are restaurants that I would like to give some business to.

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Terry:

I will be joining my wife's French family in Grenoble for Christmas. Like many of the French they enjoy their wine and food. And like many French, they are unaware (LOL) that any other country makes wine.

I would like to bring some nice American examples for us to drink together. My perference is a Zinfandel but NOT a blockbuster fruit bomb. I am thinking about a 2000 Renwood Grandpere or a 2003 Hendry. Both are in the $30 range.

Any other suggestions for something readily available that we can drink over the holidays?

Thanks

Mark

PS: I already asked Mark Slater this question. Thanks Mark!

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Terry,

Great piece on globalization and wine on your website. Can you talk a bit more about what you see as the future of wine? Where do you think wine is heading in terms of changing tastes, emerging regions and countries, etc...

Also, do you think there will be a problem with increasing prices for wines from places that can't expand production much, such as the Champagne region (I think Robert Parker wrote a piece about a year ago for Food and Wine suggesting that with increasing populations and economic prosperity (think China), wines from certain highly desirable regions would eventually become unaffordable in the face of limited supply and high demand).

Thanks,

Chris

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Terry,

Did you really say this --

"Don Rockwell has the nose of a tickhound, the appetite of a buffalo, the writing style of an idiot-savant and the critical faculities of a drunken college student on his first Spring Break"

:)

On a more serious note, there has been discussion on the wine forum about your Champagnes. What are your favorite non-Champagne sparkling wines and why?

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Terry:

Can you list the local retailers that carry the largest selection of your German and Austrian wines?

For all who ask where my wines can be found, I wish the news were sunnier. You can get reasonable representations of my portfolio at Calvert-Woodley and MacArthur, but after those two it gets very spotty. It's especially hard to find the Champagnes, but this is hardly the first time the D.C retail market has been slow to catch on to a trend from out of the mainstream. Champagnes from six of my producers are available for next-day delivery from a local wholesaler, so the best I can suggest is you visit your friendly retailer and ride his sorry ass til he gets the wine you want.

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[Note: all of these black-diamond question marks are going to be cleaned up in the near future. There's a program that converts them to their proper characters, and I want to make sure it's done carefully and correctly, instead of just quickly. DR, 04/03/15]

---

While you're at it, Terry, could you mention the restaurants in our area that have a good selection of your wines and make a special effort to promote them?� Those are restaurants that I would like to give some business to.

Above all, Vidalia, Nora, and Asia Nora. Kinkeads has also been a good supporter, as has Citronelle, though in the latter two there's been more warp and woof, i.e. sometimes you'll find lots of my wines and sometimes not so many. Then there's a universe of places you'll find a couple or a few - Marcels just added a Riesling, two Gr�Ves and a Champagne, for example - but it's more like a bit here and a piece there. Palena (my favorite local restaurant) just added a couple. It is much better than it was as recently as 2-3 years ago, but there's still some distance to travel.

Edited by DonRocks
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Terry:

I will be joining my wife's French family in Grenoble for Christmas. Like many of the French they enjoy their wine and food. And like many French, they are unaware (LOL) that any other country makes wine.

I would like to bring some nice American examples for us to drink together. My perference is a Zinfandel but NOT a blockbuster fruit bomb. I am thinking about a 2000 Renwood Grandpere or a 2003 Hendry. Both are in the $30 range.

Any other suggestions for something readily available that we can drink over the holidays?

Thanks

Mark

PS: I already asked Mark Slater this question.  Thanks Mark!

Mark, I'm SO the wrong guy to ask, as I tend to avoid new-world wines. I can tell you that the sommelier at the Grand Hotel (in Uriage-les-Bains, 15 minutes from Grenoble, two Michelin stars very well deserved) expressed interest in German and Austrian wines, and if I recall he had some American wines on his list.

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Terry,

Great piece on globalization and wine on your website.   Can you talk a bit more about what you see as the future of wine?  Where do you think wine is heading in terms of changing tastes, emerging regions and countries, etc...  

Also, do you think there will be a problem with increasing prices for wines from places that can't expand production much, such as the Champagne region (I think Robert Parker wrote a piece about a year ago for Food and Wine suggesting that with increasing populations and economic prosperity (think China), wines from certain highly desirable regions would eventually become unaffordable in the face of limited supply and high demand).

Thanks,

Chris

TT: I don't tend to think in lofty concepts like "the future of wine", but like anyone who loves the stuff I ponder what's happening to it. Somewhere in one of my catalogs I muse that there'll always be a small loyal audience for the very finest, most mystically intricate wines, and also a very large audience for fake-boobs lap-dance wines, but I wonder about the many wines in between: the lovely, useful, not-great but infinitely good...not wines of moderate virtue but rather wines wherein moderation IS a virtue. Who will buy them? Lately I have come to feel we place insufficient emphasis on the simple desires of the body, on the wines that make us sensually HAPPY, that deliver us joy. It isn't always "fun" to drink great wines, you know. And I doubt many people would select a great wine to answer the question "What am I thirsty for?"

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Terry,

Great piece on globalization and wine on your website.   Can you talk a bit more about what you see as the future of wine?  Where do you think wine is heading in terms of changing tastes, emerging regions and countries, etc...  

Also, do you think there will be a problem with increasing prices for wines from places that can't expand production much, such as the Champagne region (I think Robert Parker wrote a piece about a year ago for Food and Wine suggesting that with increasing populations and economic prosperity (think China), wines from certain highly desirable regions would eventually become unaffordable in the face of limited supply and high demand).

Thanks,

Chris

Sorry Chris, I neglected your second question. I think there will be a problem with increasing prices IN GENERAL, in part because the young generation of quality-minded producers SPENDS more to make wine than their parents (usually) did. Nor are they content with their parent's definition of affluence. We all applaud the news that some vintner or other has "lowered yields by 40%" but do we want to pay 40% more for the wine? Sad as it is to say, if you want to find bargains the best way is to see where the crowd is going, and run in the opposite direction. And there are more than enough underappreciated waifs in the wine world.

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Terry,

Did you really say this --

"Don Rockwell has the nose of a tickhound, the appetite of a buffalo, the writing style of an idiot-savant and the critical faculities of a drunken college student on his first Spring Break"

:)

On a more serious note, there has been discussion on the wine forum about your Champagnes. What are your favorite non-Champagne sparkling wines and why?

TT: Why yes, I DID say that about Rockwell. At his request, mind you. To answer your second question, I don't really drink that many non-Champagne fizz these days, because I am a lucky bastard. But if/when I do, I like sparkling Vouvray sometimes, and I like the occasional Austrian or German Sekt. If I'm not drinking Champagne then I do NOT want to drink one of its imitators, but rather a sparkling wine valid in its own right. Oh, and this is probably outside the purview of your question, but I think Moscato D'Asti is absolutely angelic stuff.

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Terry,

I love your Champagnes, especially Gaston Chiquet (the '90 is simply beautiful). I also enjoyed your article about "Globalization", I am more of a pragmatist than you are, but I loved the following point:

What other great wine is great as the best Loire Chenins are great? As the best Barolos are great? As the best Jurançons, the best Mosel Rieslings, the best Grüner Veltliners, the best Grand Cru Chablis?
This points to what I think is a weakness in most rating systems, they fail to let me know how a wine rates against the established idea of what the reviewer believes a particular wine should taste like. When I read most reviews, I still do not know what the reviewer expects from a particular style (i.e. what do they believe a Hermitage should taste like as compared to a Cote Roti).
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OK.  I'll bite.  In which direction is the crowd currently running, and which direction would be the opposite?

That should be apparent on its own face. Just look at what's advertised each Monday in the Post. Look, the crowd runs toward the things it always runs toward, the lowest common denominator. Add wine's intimidation factor (which confers authority on wine writers who claim to tell you which wines you should buy and PRECISELY how much you should like them) and there's all the makings for a herd-effect. The prevailing style, if you will, is a cunning contrivance of all that is OVERT and which is designed not to engage you, but merely to entertain you. Commercial wines are like commercial television; they encourage your passivity, they do all the work for you - "You just lie back and watch, and I'll strut my (surgically enhanced) stuff." - as opposed to 'cooler' styles of wine which encourage you to engage, which create a kinetic 2-way experience because the wine isn't gushing away at you, isn't filling your entire field of vision with STUFF. Commercial wine is like riding in the car with grunge-rock blasting away, and yes there's a time & place for that experience, but it gets old FAST and it prevents you from noticing anything ELSE.

Fine wine, on the other hand, doesn't show you all its cards right away. It speaks with a moderate "voice", and it seduces not with a spurious voluptuousness but rather with its finesse, texture, and many-sidedness. It makes you curious; it encourages you to ponder and wonder; it takes you on a journey not only to its own home - where it grew, and who grew it - but into all the fascination of the world, starting with the strange fact of beauty and all the way to home and the notion of belonging.

Now clearly this isn't an experience for which one can draw a map or write a recipe. That's part of its nature and essence. But imagine two movies: the first a typical popcorn-blockbuster, maybe even a well-made one, full of special effects and bim-bam-boom. You're entertained, certainly, and that's fine of course, but the calories are empty. Now imagine another, more quiet movie, the kind you're still thinking about days later, with characters you can't get out of your head and scenes of indelible impact. Watch the two theaters empty out when the movies are over, and tell me which one you think will have attracted the larger crowd.

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Terry,

I love your Champagnes, especially Gaston Chiquet (the '90 is simply beautiful).  I also enjoyed your article about "Globalization", I am more of a pragmatist than you are, but I loved the following point:

This points to what I think is a weakness in most rating systems, they fail to let me know how a wine rates against the established idea of what the reviewer believes a particular wine should taste like.  When I read most reviews, I still do not know what the reviewer expects from a particular style (i.e. what do they believe a Hermitage should taste like as compared to a Cote Roti).

Not to mention the failure of reviewers to establish their own frames of reference. Notwithstanding all the shots taken at Parker, I must say I think he's all one could reasonably ask from a critic; he's visible, he's incorruptible, he lets you know where he's coming from, and you can USE the results, though not in the way many of his readers do. That said, part of the reason for your complaint is a simple matter of space: most publishers don't feel they have the luxury to print text establishing a writer's benchmarks; they gotta print the stuff that sells. Scores, TOP-10s! BEST-Ofs!

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Fine wine, on the other hand, doesn't show you all its cards right away. It speaks with a moderate "voice", and it seduces not with a spurious voluptuousness but rather with its finesse, texture, and many-sidedness. It makes you curious; it encourages you to ponder and wonder; it takes you on a journey not only to its own home - where it grew, and who grew it - but into all the fascination of the world, starting with the strange fact of beauty and all the way to home and the notion of belonging.

Terry,

First of all, THANK YOU! for joining us here.

With your tolerance, acceptance, perhaps even insistence in wine's everyday flaws, have you ever thought that you're Refusing Heaven?

Or are they flaws?

And there's the pitch. It's a long fly ball! He's taking him deep, deep, deep! Back! Way back! It's ... it's ... it's...

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Terry,

First of all, THANK YOU! for joining us here.

With your tolerance, acceptance, perhaps even insistence in wine's everyday flaws, have you ever thought that you're Refusing Heaven?

Or are they flaws?

I think I'm a little confused by the question. I don't argue for "flawed" wine (though I might assert the virtue of something others might perceive as a flaw, e.g. asymmetry), but instead argue for AUTHENTIC virtues as opposed to contrived (and therefore inauthentic) "virtues". Even more (if you will) holistic, I'd say that the 'meaning" (again if you will) of fine wine is such as to make irrelevant an enumeration of flaws-plus-or-minus-virtues. No doubt there are wines that seem flawless; you and I have drunk a few of them together. But we've also drunk unforgettable wines, wines incandescent with meaning and beauty, in which we might easily have found flaws if we were feeling nit-picky - the 90 Hermannshöhle Auslese of Dönnhoff's comes to mind. Yet a wine like that one takes you to a place where IT DOESN'T MATTER IF THE WINE ISN'T "PERFECT".

Don's referring to Jack Gilbert's newest book of poems, by the way. If anyone's interested in poetry don't get that one until you've read the previous (and better) one, The Great Fires.

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I think I'm a little confused by the question. I don't argue for "flawed" wine (though I might assert the virtue of something others might perceive as a flaw, e.g. asymmetry), but instead argue for AUTHENTIC virtues as opposed to contrived (and therefore inauthentic) "virtues".

But I think you do argue for flawed wine - not any particular flaw, nor any particular wine, but for the human joy of imperfection.

Quoting a synopsis of José Saramago's The Cave, the Nobel Prize winning author "tells the story of Cipriano Algor, an old man who makes a living selling hand-made pottery. He lives in an antiquated village on the outskirts of The Center, a gigantic residential shopping mall that buys his wares. The Center comes to embody everything wrong with the consumerist culture, its artificial playgrounds and catering to every need, whereas Cipriano longs for the old ways and traditions. The crisis in his life comes when The Center stops buying his pottery because plastic is cheaper, and his daughter and her husband consider moving to The Center where he works as a security guard."

Algor's pottery is flawed, i.e. not plastic-y perfect or made to some sort of preconceived specifications, and this is exactly what I believe you seek in wine and in life.

And it's one of the things I like best about you!

Of course you also play a mean guitar, but that's another story.

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But I think you do argue for flawed wine - not any particular flaw, nor any particular wine, but for the human joy of imperfection.

Quoting a synopsis of José Saramago's The Cave, the Nobel Prize winning author "tells the story of Cipriano Algor, an old man who makes a living selling hand-made pottery. He lives in an antiquated village on the outskirts of The Center, a gigantic residential shopping mall that buys his wares. The Center comes to embody everything wrong with the consumerist culture, its artificial playgrounds and catering to every need, whereas Cipriano longs for the old ways and traditions. The crisis in his life comes when The Center stops buying his pottery because plastic is cheaper, and his daughter and her husband consider moving to The Center where he works as a security guard."

Algor's pottery is flawed, i.e. not plastic-y perfect or made to some sort of preconceived specifications, and this is exactly what I believe you seek in wine and in life.

And it's one of the things I like best about you!

Of course you also play a mean guitar, but that's another story.

TT: Well now we're getting into philosophy and aesthetics, which is fine, but there's no question that a v-e-r-y thin line exists between the "perfect" and the bland when it comes to wine. It's not that the flaw needs to be forgiven; it's the opposite. We LIKE the flaw (or so-called flaw) because it makes the thing interesting, animate, human. I mean, my Christmas tree is a little droopy on one side and it's definitely not as picturesque as a fake tree would be, but it smells so good and it's alive.

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Obviously there have been wonderful advancements in winemaking techniques in the last 25 years. Which ones do you wish would just go away? What innovations are currently eating away at the soul of winemaking?

Reverse osmosis machines and spinning cones are the most egregious, followed by centrifuges and separators. I draw a distinction between those which really falsify a wine and those which merely are the easiest/cheapest way around a "situation", for example: you can green-harvest to remove rotten berries and/or you can hand-pick and sort either on tables or slow-conveyors or both....or, you can pick any old crap and clean it up with fining in the winery. Hard-good way or easy-bad way.

An example of a "good" advancement is temperature-control inside tanks or casks, because here's a case in which technology improved upon the old method without altering the wine. I can go into more detail but it starts geeting geeky. I think you see what I mean. The idea of CONTRIVING a wine is essentially repugnant to me.

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Terry,

Vielen Dank for your patience and graciousness in answering all of our questions.

Mine is less general and philosophical, being about a particular half-bottle of wine:

1973 Ockfener Bockstein TBA Eiswein. My German is a little rusty, but the bottom of the label says, "Verwaltung der Staatlichen Weinbaudomaenen Trier" (so it's from Trier?).

It was imported by O'Donnell Importing Co., Melvindale, Michigan--so we must have obtained it in Ann Arbor in 1977-1979. It's been stored in fairly stable cellar conditions.

We were thinking of opening it over the holidays. Do you have any thoughts about it?

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It's not that the flaw needs to be forgiven; it's the opposite. We LIKE the flaw (or so-called flaw) because it makes the thing interesting, animate, human. I mean, my Christmas tree is a little droopy on one side and it's definitely not as picturesque as a fake tree would be, but it smells so good and it's alive.

Terry and I chatted about this on the phone yesterday afternoon, and I mentioned that one of the things I love about Frank Ruta's cooking is that it's 'flawed.' It's not technically flawed, mind you, but there's a palpable sense of humanity that seems to go into each dish. Terry then replied that he found Frank's food to be 'pretty much perfect.'

Terry, given that Palena is a favorite on this forum, can you expand on this a bit?

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Terry,

Vielen Dank for your patience and graciousness in answering all of our questions.

Mine is less general and philosophical, being about a particular half-bottle of wine:

1973 Ockfener Bockstein TBA Eiswein.  My German is a little rusty, but the bottom of the label says, "Verwaltung der Staatlichen Weinbaudomaenen Trier" (so it's from Trier?).

It was imported by O'Donnell Importing Co., Melvindale, Michigan--so we must have obtained it in Ann Arbor in 1977-1979.  It's been stored in fairly stable cellar conditions.

We were thinking of opening it over the holidays.  Do you have any thoughts about it?

TT: You might get lucky, but the odds are against it. Halves are notoriously finicky about transport and storage. Have a back-up bottle in case this one's brown and decadent. The pedigree is excellent. The `73 vintage was what I'd call "clement", i.e. a lovely soft-ish vintage mostly in the Kabinett-Spätlese ranges without a lot of stamina or drive but with pleasant fruit while they lasted. The best are still pretty, but these are bottles mostly of Mosel wines that never left the wineries and thus have been stored impeccably. A small amount of Eiswein was made at the end of the harvest, and yours hails from a "Grand Cru" and ought to be, or ought to HAVE been, lovely. Bonne chance.

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Terry and I chatted about this on the phone yesterday afternoon, and I mentioned that one of the things I love about Frank Ruta's cooking is that it's 'flawed.'  It's not technically flawed, mind you, but there's a palpable sense of humanity that seems to go into each dish.  Terry then replied that he found Frank's food to be 'pretty much perfect.'

Terry, given that Palena is a favorite on this forum, can you expand on this a bit?

Among the many things I love about Palena is how egoless Frank's food is: it's about the beauty of ingredients more than him trying to dazzle you with his reinventions-of-cuisine. I use a word like "perfect" because he always seems to grasp what he reaches for, maybe because he doesn't OVER-reach. The result is food that seems to love you back.

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Alrighty! You obviously dine frequently in DC. What are your favorite dining destinations, be it cheap eats, haute cuisine, and everywhere in between?

TT: I'm gonna answer two questions here; first, yes Don I do think Ruta's food is (honorary) girl-food and I mean that as a VERY high compliment.

To the matter at hand: you might be surprised to hear I don't actually dine out much locally. That's not any sort of editorial on local restaurants, but more a question of how much I travel - I'm away one out of every three nights - so that when I'm home I tend to cocoon. And eating out some 125 nights a year makes me cherish meals cooked and eaten at home. Naturally I have favorites locally, but in truth I'm not enough of an habitué to speak with expertise about the scene.

On a completely unrelated note, long-time DC diners might be interested to know I ran into Mary Richter (remember Zuki Moon?) in Minneapolis last month. She looked great and happy. She's managing the (substantial) food department at Surdyk's, which is one of the big league wine shops there. I told her we all missed her; at least I do.

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Hi Terry, thanks for joining us on DR.com.

As you can see, DR is filled with a bunch of wine freaks. However, there are many of us on the board (like myself) where the idea of a wine pairing is "white with chicken and fish, red with meat"...I look at a restaurant wine list but most of it's all greek to me. Fortunately there are restaurants in DC where I'm completely comfortable in place my wine choices in the staff's hands, Komi, Firefly, Palena, and Corduroy immediately jump to mind.

However, for the wino neophytes around here, can you give us advice on books, classes around DC, or other general tips about how to expand our wine knowledge. I'm guessing part of your answer will be drink more wine! :)

Also can you expand on how you personally "got into" wine and developed your knowledge.

Thanks

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Terry,

You once told me that Germany is your wife, Austria is your best friend, and Champagne is your mistress.  Do you remember this, and if so, can you elucidate?

I don't remember, but it sounds like something I might have said!

Germany is my first and deepest love. It's the place that rouses me most profoundly. People who visit Germany with me often say it's a religious experience - though it's a religion that encourages plenty of partying.

Austria is a wonderfully good time, youthful, oxygen-rich, nothing but fun. What I feel there is maybe more extroverted but maybe not quite as "center-ing" (meditators will know what I mean, probably better than I do...). Places like Undhof and Nikolaihof have more gravitas, which is why they remind me of what I feel while in Germany. But I exaggerate these distinctions. I mean, if I hear myself getting ready to say "yeah Austria's more fun but less deep" I think of Willi Bründlmayer or Ludwig Hiedler or Heidi Schröck and think "WHAT the @*!k am I talking about?"

Champagne is the one wine for which I truly THIRST. Dry Muscat is 2nd. If I go too long without drinking Champagne I start getting a massive jones for it.

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Terry,

Comments and judgements on a restaurant's wine list come up frequently on discussion sites like this. Often, a place is said to have 'a good wine list', or something similarly opaque. To me, a wine list is pronounced to be 'good' if it satisfies such mundane criteria as 'do they have a couple different kinds of red wine, or is it all merlot?', 'is there something here I can afford' and generally most important 'how's the wine by the glass list looking?', since that's generally where I'm headed. What do you look for in a wine list? What does a 'good wine list' mean?

Followup sub-question: Once you have a 'good' wine list in front of you, how do you decide what to drink? What are pros considering that we novices probably do not when making our selections?

Thanks!

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However, for the wino neophytes around here, can you give us advice on books, classes around DC, or other general tips about how to expand our wine knowledge.  I'm guessing part of your answer will be drink more wine!   :)

Terry would never say this, so let me do it instead: I've recommended his wine catalogs (click here to view them online) as first-ever wine books for absolute beginners. Why? Because more than anything else, they're great reads. They're fun, passionate, very funny at times, and even though the "wine stuff" may seem like a bit much for the neophyte, I don't think it is. In the interest of full disclosure, these are commercial catalogs primarily used to sell wines to retail stores (not to retail customers) - as a result they're not "neutral," but it's so much fun to see Terry pitch his wares and boy-oh-boy does he do it in style. Seriously, spend twenty minutes reading one and you'll see what I mean - I had read these things for years before I ever met Terry, and loved them (and still do).

Cheers,

Rocks

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Terry-

Thanks for the advice in delineating an artisan-grower champagne section on my wine list, helped sales, made me feel good. Do you think Albert King would agree that "the most important notes in music are the ones that you don't hear."?

Thus said is the most important flavor(s) in wine the one(s) that you do not taste, and is this a nod to authentic wine making as opposed to the commercialized machinations of a few big companies?

What to you is the essence of authenticity then, is there a central "string theory" to all wines that possess this authenticity, or does each varietal on each plot have its own unique form of expression. Rocks reallly served up a philosophical knucleball...

Edited by brendanc
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Terry,

Comments and judgements on a restaurant's wine list come up frequently on discussion sites like this.  Often, a place is said to have 'a good wine list', or something similarly opaque.  To me, a wine list is pronounced to be 'good' if it satisfies such mundane criteria as 'do they have a couple different kinds of red wine, or is it all merlot?', 'is there something here I can afford' and generally most important 'how's the wine by the glass list looking?', since that's generally where I'm headed.  What do you look for in a wine list? What does a 'good wine list' mean?

Followup sub-question: Once you  have a 'good' wine list in front of you, how do you decide what to drink?  What are pros considering that we novices probably do not when making our selections?

Thanks!

My addmittedly subjective answer to that question is, I look for a wine list to REFER TO THE FOOD. Too many times the list is either incoherent or else the spawn of the sommelier's ego (spending his boss's money....), and it's distressing when the list and the menu look to have been composed by two people who never spoke to each other. So IMO a "good" list is sensitive to what works with the menu. Further, it's not too large ("Too many choices America: not healthy!" Geo. Carlin) nor physically unwieldy (a real pet peeve, 10lb lists you can't open without knocking over your date's water glass), and it offers interesting drinking in all price ranges. These things matter far more to me than having 15-vintage verticals of La Mouline et al.

Naturally I prefer an ecumenical list with lots of "interesting" choices to one that's all the old Cab-Chard-Bordeaux-Burgundy orthodoxy, and all things being equal I always prefer to see growers instead of Negoçiants. Being in the trade, I can also glean the suppliers the buyers prefer to work with, and that tells me something.

Personally the first thing I look for is Champagne; do they have good ones or just the same tired old Factory-fizz? Very few places ever pour interesting Champagne by the glass, so I look at the bottle list to see if there'll be some fizz to drink. I then look for Alsace, Loire, Germany or Austria as these are the sources of the most food-lovin' whites. For reds I favor Burgundy, old-style Rioja, Veneto and Piedmontese, red Loires; those are the things I scan for when I take my first quick pass through a list. I then make a mental short-list from which final selections will be made depending on the food. Once in a while there's such a gotta-drink-it wine that I'll order food around it, but usually the food dictates the wine choice - and this is the point I can't stress enough: wine is just another comestible, a "grocery" if you will, and its function is to harmonize with what you're eating. You wouldn't deliberately order food with discordant combinations, so please take the same care when ordering wine.

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Terry would never say this, so let me do it instead:  I've recommended his wine catalogs (click here to view them online) as first-ever wine books for absolute beginners.  Why?  Because more than anything else, they're great reads.  They're fun, passionate, very funny at times, and even though the "wine stuff" may seem like a bit much for the neophyte, I don't think it is.  In the interest of full disclosure, these are commercial catalogs primarily used to sell wines to retail stores (not to retail customers) - as a result they're not "neutral," but it's so much fun to see Terry pitch his wares and boy-oh-boy does he do it in style.  Seriously, spend twenty minutes reading one and you'll see what I mean - I had read these things for years before I ever met Terry, and loved them (and still do).

Cheers,

Rocks

There's only one wine book anyone strictly needs to own; Hugh Johnson's (and Jancis Robinson's) World Atlas Of Wine. There are two other great wine books recently issued: The Accidental Connoisseur (Lawrence Osborne) and The New France (Andrew Jefford) though neither is an all-purpose for-beginners book. Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible is also useful and charming.

I never took classes and don't know how they might work. It depends on the quality of instruction I guess. What I'd personally recommend is to read the Wine Atlas and see what sort of wines most arouse your curiosity. Then drink ONE type of white and ONE type of red for at least 4 months and even better 6; really go deep into those wines until you start to know them (old hippies will appreciate it if I say to "grok" them). Then take another two types and instantly your mind will compare and contrast to what you already know. Build that way and what you build stays built. I think it's useless to dabble in 60 different wines and expect to understand anything about them, about wine, or about yourself.

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Terry-

Thanks for the advice in delineating an artisan-grower champagne section on my wine list, helped sales, made me feel good. Do you think  Albert King would agree that "the most important notes in music are the ones that you don't hear."?

Thus said is the most important flavor(s) in wine the one(s) that you do not taste, and is this a nod to authentic wine making as opposed to the commercialized machinations of a few big companies?

What to you is the essence of authenticity then, is there a central "string theory" to all wines that possess this authenticity, or does each varietal on each plot have its own unique form of expression. Rocks reallly served up a philosophical knucleball...

Hi Brendan, great to hear from you.

The answer to your various metaphysical questions is...YES. Nor am I being facile.

The "essence of authenticity" involves these few phenomena: first, there is a kind of trinity-of-meaning wherein soil, family and culture intersect. As indeed they do in artisan wine wherever it comes from. This is to my mind concretely meaningful to the drinker, and here's why: Taking, say, Willi Schaefer as an example, Willy knows intimately that his wines from Himmelreich taste one way and those from Domprobst taste another. His forefathers knew it, and so does he. It is a matter of simple fact to him (I come along later and philosophize emotionally over it, which makes him chuckle) but it has the effect of establishing an order of priority, first the vineyards (i.e. the soil), which change hardly at all and then v-e-r-y slowly, and then the human, which changes each generation. Thus Willi is connected to his land, and the wine he makes expresses the connection. Why? Because he knows the land's innate flavors existed both before and after his particular period of stewardship, and so he gets out of the way and lets his land speak. (This is what we mean by non-manipulative winemaking: no flavors ADDED in the cellar but instead the preservation of what comes out of the vineyard.)

Then you come along and drink the wine. Let's assume you like it. You know it comes from a family, not a factory, a "him" and not an "it". A guy just like you or me. You're connected to Willi becdause his reality is plain to see. Willi is connected to his land. You're connected to Willi, and so you are ALSO connected to his land. I don't see this as being metaphysical in any way; rather it strikes me as explicit and simple.

Authenticity is, therefore, the preservation of a loving humility towards one's land which then expresses in the wine. If you put all these many artisans and their families together, it comprises a culture of detailed tending in a matrix of collegiality between man and soil. Yet for me to come along and explicate it is somewhat dangerous, because these are experiences of soul, and soul-experiences are inferential. They are about knowing but not knowing how you know what you know.

When it comes to the wine in your glass, to refer to your question about the notes you "don't hear", in my experiences every authentic wine has two levels; the levels of its "flavors" and the level of its "flavor". Flavors-plural are all those bits and nuances we love to delineate. But FLAVOR is the holistic impression of the thing in its entirety. It is the thing that plays in silence as well as sound. It is why a poet famously once said the last line of a poem is the silence following the reading of the final line of text. It's the unit of time between the tick and the tock.

Are we having fun yet?!?!

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drink ONE type of white and ONE type of red for at least 4 months and even better 6; really go deep into those wines until you start to know them

Can you help this novice by saying more about what you mean by "type"? Maybe with an example, and guidance about how to "go deep" into that type? Thanks!

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