Random Notes for A Hot, Hazy, Humid Wednesday
I gave a talk last week about America’s wine revolution at the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati. It is a lovely, privately funded institution that has a terrific speakers program, and I was honored that they invited me out. Around 100 people attended, and it was gratifying to see how interested they were in the culture of wine. There were a few self-acknowledged wine geeks in the crowd, but most were casual wine enthusiasts. Yet, they all seemed completely engaged by the topic. I spoke for around 35 minutes, then took questions for a half-hour. The questions were very smart, and had we not run out of time, the discussion might have gone on long into the evening. We know that cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have incredibly vibrant wine scenes, and we also know that there are plenty of oenophiles in places like Charlotte and Austin. But at the risk of sounding like an ignorant coastal type, it was very encouraging to see that the wine bug is truly a national phenomenon. During my talk, I made the claim that United States has the most dynamic wine culture of any country now, and the audience in Cincinnati proved my point.
I drove back and forth to Cincinnati, about nine hours each way. Driving was probably not the wisest choice—the Pennsylvania Turnpike is as dull as it is interminable!—but it was depressingly revealing. There was nothing to eat on the highway except fast food, and by the look of things, fast food was pretty much all that was available off the highway, too, in places such as western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Sure, we all know fast food is everywhere, but I don’t think you can fully appreciate the extent to which it dominates the American landscape until you drive through some of these areas.
Acclaimed consulting winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt gave an interview earlier this month to the French newspaper Le Monde in which he acknowledged preparing special cuvées expressly for the annual Bordeaux en primeurs tastings. Derenoncourt told Le Monde that the en primeurs blends are put into barrel sooner than the rest of the vintage so that they taste more evolved than would otherwise be the case six months after the harvest. Decanter magazine picked up the story last week and cited a handful of winemakers confirming that this is standard practice in Bordeaux. One winery owner, Yann Bouscasse of Châeau Cantinot, confessed that he gives different samples to different critics; some taste from new oak barrels, others from older barrels. “James Suckling, Neal Martin or Robert Parker will get a new barrel,” Bouscasse said, “while Gault Millau, or Revue du Vin de France, will get second or third use. American tasters can cope better with oak—Suckling likes a wine with more body.” Setting aside the fact that Martin is British, not American, Bouscasse’s candid remark calls to mind Michael Kinsley’s famous definition of a gaffe: it is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. I might have more to say on this topic tomorrow, but I am just curious: is anyone surprised to learn that the Bordelais are doctoring up samples for critics?