Posted on the Facebook Four Sisters Wine page, H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.
April 5, 2017
March 24, 2017
Michael Pinkus on the odd choices of wines to celebrate some Ontario wine luminaries:
Let’s be honest, the LCBO is lackadaisical, at best, when it comes to promoting Ontario wines, and they do it with such a blasé attitude it is embarrassing in the way they continue to absolutely fail the people of Ontario … let me explain and expand.
The main feature of the April 1, 2017 release is “Visionaries, Innovators and Pioneers” (VIP) – on a global scale – here you’ll see names you recognize and wineries that are household names (or one’s that should be) – people like Angelo Gaja (Italy), Ben Glaetzer (Australia), Ken Forrester (South Africa), Michel Chapoutier (France) and Nicolas Catena (Argentina) and for each they pair a wine to go along with them … I question the wine selection for these iconic wine luminaries, but what the hey, sometimes those iconic wines are sold out (icon wines do that) and you then have to go for secondary wines by those producers.
Then I reached the part with our local VIPs: Moray Tawse (true, a more recent member of the VIP club and in my opinion kind of an easy choice by the LCBO), even more lazy are the wines selected, far from what I would call his “iconic” ones; but that seems to be par-for-the-course in this release. Tawse makes single vineyard / single block wines that are “the bomb”, yet the LCBO chose a “Growers Blend” and a “Sketches” wine, seriously?
But the one that incensed me the most was Chateau des Charmes, not for the man they named, Paul Bosc Sr., who is a Visionary, Pioneer AND Innovator in Ontario, but the wine that was chosen to represent him: Cabernet Icewine? When I saw that, you could have knocked me over with a feather; what happened to Gamay Noir Droit? Single vineyard varietal offerings? Sparkling wine? Or even Equuleus? But instead of showing off these iconic / original table wines the LCBO goes for the easy layup of Icewine; which isn’t even what Bosc is known for (though he makes excellent versions of it), that honour should have gone to Inniskillin (Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser)
February 9, 2017
‘Natural’ doesn’t come into it; these are works of craftsmanship; even, occasionally, art. Does a winemaker, then, have the right to sell me something that ignores, or flouts, the winemaking conventions that I rely on?
Is ‘natural’ a self-justifying word to cover any sort of accident? Or is ‘alternative’ a more accurate description?
Of course, the producer may have a lab and state-of-the art chemistry and simply choose not to intervene. There are highly reputed (and very expensive) ‘orange’ wines.
But I’ve also tasted ‘natural’ wines that remind me of Italy 50 years ago. Tipping grapes in the tub on the ox cart, breaking them up with a cudgel on the way back to the farm and leaving the rest to nature rarely had good results.
The sales pitch for ‘natural’ wines usually tells you that conventional wines contain a lot of non-grape juice gunk. Fish guts: horror. Egg whites: poison. Sulphites: allergens. Colouring: dishonest. Sugar: cheating.
There seems to be a high ground – is it moral, ethical, fashionable, hygienic? – shared by ‘naturalists’ and vegans. Then again, if you read the list of preservatives and allergens on any supermarket packet, you may want to give up eating altogether.
I’ve long since given up reading any of the wine magazines, so I wasn’t aware that on top of the oh-so-precious-and-superior “organic” and “biodynamic” categories (where quite ordinary wines get a few extra dollars on the price tag) we now also have a bunch of even-more-precious-and-ecologically-correct “natural” wines. I don’t object to winemakers persuading a few gullible punters to pay more for otherwise indifferent plonk, but I object to the quasi-religious preaching that always seems to accompany it.
February 6, 2017
The received wisdom about the transition from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies is that clans or tribes stopped being nomadic in order to grow crops and secure their food supply more consistently … that growing grain for bread was one of the strongest underlying reasons for the change in lifestyle. That theory is being challenged by researchers who believe the real reason was to produce grains for brewing instead:
The story of humanity’s love affair with alcohol goes back to a time before farming — to a time before humans, in fact. Our taste for tipple may be a hardwired evolutionary trait that distinguishes us from most other animals.
The active ingredient common to all alcoholic beverages is made by yeasts: microscopic, single-celled organisms that eat sugar and excrete carbon dioxide and ethanol, the only potable alcohol. That’s a form of fermentation. Most modern makers of beer, wine, or sake use cultivated varieties of a single yeast genus called Saccharomyces (the most common is S. cerevisiae, from the Latin word for “beer,” cerevisia). But yeasts are diverse and ubiquitous, and they’ve likely been fermenting ripe wild fruit for about 120 million years, ever since the first fruits appeared on Earth.
From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.
To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. “Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference,” says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. “We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.”
Flash forward millions of years to a parched plateau in southeastern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. Archaeologists there are exploring another momentous transition in human prehistory, and a tantalizing possibility: Did alcohol lubricate the Neolithic revolution? Did beer help persuade Stone Age hunter-gatherers to give up their nomadic ways, settle down, and begin to farm?
The ancient site, Göbekli Tepe, consists of circular and rectangular stone enclosures and mysterious T-shaped pillars that, at 11,600 years old, may be the world’s oldest known temples. Since the site was discovered two decades ago, it has upended the traditional idea that religion was a luxury made possible by settlement and farming. Instead the archaeologists excavating Göbekli Tepe think it was the other way around: Hunter-gatherers congregated here for religious ceremonies and were driven to settle down in order to worship more regularly.
H/T to Tamara Keel for the link.
December 5, 2016
I’m a mom of three young kids. That means I like to have a glass of wine
with breakfast, lunch, and dinnernow and then. And since my kids seem to grow out of their clothes and shoes seconds after I’ve purchased them, I like to get a good deal on a boxbottle or two. Luckily for me, there is stiff competition in the wine industry, which means I can get wines from around the world at prices I can afford.
Yet with competition comes increased need to attract customers. And some companies are resorting to a new strategy: Alarmism.
Consider the recent suggestion by some wine companies that some corks are not just inferior, but dangerous. That might seem silly to some or just a lousy marketing stunt to others, but it’s a familiar and all-too-effective tactic used on moms who are constantly encouraged to police their homes for threats to their families.
November 4, 2016
In the Economist, a look at a very different kind of wine appliance:
To create a new wine the customer manipulates three sliders on a touch screen attached to the machine. One moves between the extremes of “light” and “full-bodied”. A second runs from “soft”, via “mellow” to “fiery”. The third goes from “sweet” to “dry”. No confusing descriptions like “strawberry notes with a nutty aftertaste” are needed.
The desired glass is then mixed from tanks of each of the four primaries, hidden inside the machine’s plinth. The requisite quantities are pumped into a transparent cone-shaped mixing vessel on top of the plinth. Added air bubbles ensure a good, swirling mix and flashing light-emitting diodes give a suitably theatrical display.
Traditionalists may be appalled by all this, but they should not be. In Mr Wimalaratne’s mind, the function of the Vinfusion system is in principle little different from the blending of grape varieties that goes on in many vineyards, to produce wines more interesting than those based on a single variety. Moreover, if Vinfusion works as intended, it will let people experiment with oenological flavours in a way that is currently impossible and which lets them discover what appeals. A decent sommelier ought then to be able to recommend wines vinified in the conventional way that will taste similar.
In the longer run, recording and collating the requests made to a group of Vinfusion machines might even help restaurants and bars stock bottles that people will like, rather than merely tolerate. And if all this happens, the snobbery and mystique surrounding wine—whether blended in the vineyard or the restaurant—may disappear for good.
The selected “component” wines are chosen for their vintage-to-vintage consistency, so that there’s a lower variability in the wines used to blend your personal selection. This almost certainly wouldn’t work as well with wines from cool climate areas (like Ontario).
October 29, 2016
Michael Pinkus gets an uncharacteristic rush of optimism over the sale of Constellation Brands:
[W]hile it’s nice to see Canada’s Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs back in Canadian hands what does all this say about the selling of wine in Canada? When the world’s largest holder of wine companies/brands decides to throw in the towel here and sell off their Canadian division, yet still holds the remainder of the wineries and brands they acquired with their 2006 purchase of Vincor to me speaks volumes. Now I’m just speculating here, as I do in many of my commentaries, but could it be that Constellation sees the writing on the wall: that making money in Canada (in general) and in Ontario specifically, will not be as easy as it once was under the Liberal’s new proposed “sharing the retail space plan”. Let’s face it, the real selling feature of Vincor’s Canadian holdings were those Ontario money makers: those off-site stores that were a license to print money in the province … and now if the world’s largest can’t figure it out how in the world are the rest of Ontario’s wineries supposed to do it? Are we about to embark down another rabbit hole of when it comes to the sale of booze in this province?
[…] Just last week, I was asked for my thoughts and I immediately went to the pessimistic side of things: “does not bode well for the selling of wine here in Ontario”; but then after some careful thought I decided there still might be room for optimism, especially if you look at the purchaser. At one point in the process it was rumoured that Peller was in the mix of buyers to take over the Constellation Canadian holdings, but in the end it was the Teachers’ Pension Plan that took it for $1.03 billion. Many on social media lamented that if the teachers do for booze what they did for Toronto sports teams we’re all in big trouble. But I thought of a better angle: Nobody is better at lobbying and twisting the arm of the provincial government to get what they want than the Teachers’ Union … and once they learn how difficult selling wine is, and the antiquated laws we have surrounding it, here in Ontario, they’ll set their sights on making changes, and while the fairly ineffectual Wine Council of Ontario seems to be a mouse nipping at the heels of the governmental elephant, the Teachers’ Union and their Pension Plan will seem like a pack of wolves and hyenas working together to wrestle the elephant to the ground. So while Peller (had they succeeded in their purchase efforts) would have become the largest Canadian winery by far, they would not have been any more effective at invoking change to the system; on the other hand, the Teachers’ Union could play a large and important role at getting laws passed that will loosen up our repressive and antiquated system up; because who is in more need of a drink at the end of the day than a teacher, and it should be easier for them to get it and sell it..
September 18, 2016
Rick VanSickle vents about the LCBO’s amazingly tone-deaf marketing:
Sorry, LCBO, but I don’t get you. Such a lame-o release on the birthday of our great country July 1, with paltry few Canadian wines released to celebrate our big day, and presumably a few folks out there looking to party with local wines, and then suddenly in the middle of September, you drop the big one.
What up with that? I mean, the Sept. 17 issue of the Vintages mag, with pages and pages of features on Ontario wines and the biggest selection of local wines of the year — am I missing something? Is this some sort of key date for us in Ontario and Canada?
I want to be there during your obviously very detailed board meetings to listen in on the thinking behind your planning. When you get to, say, July 1, does anyone go: “Hey, that’s Canada Day, let’s flood the aisles with great Canadian wine. It’s what the people want, the people who pay for our largesse, the people we work for.” Well, no, of course not, that’s ridiculous.
Instead, as they count down the calendar, they go: “OK, what do we have for the week of Sept. 17? Why, there’s absolutely nothing going on, so let’s make it the biggest Ontario wine release of the year! Yes, perfect!”
Of course, what does it matter anyway? It’s not like the guy down the street is doing any better because there is no guy down the street. It’s the beauty of a monopoly — guilt-free decisions because there is no wrong decision if you are the only game in town.
For example (stay with me here, we’ll get to the wine), if the government decided it was going to force a shoe-store monopoly on its populace and came to the conclusion at a big swanky retreat where such decisions are made (pure speculation) that it would be so cool to put out a big display of Converse runners at all their stores on the first day of winter. No winter boots, no mukluks, just running shoes and sandals. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? lol.
It’s funny but not really funny. We just accept that it’s wrong and carry on like a monopoly is beyond reproach, beyond accountability.
For the record, the Canada Day Vintages release featured a cover story called: South Side Story: Wines of Southern France with 12 pages of spectacular photography and enticing bottles of French wine proudly displayed with glowing reviews and effusive praise for all.
August 2, 2016
The Ontario government granted the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) some regulatory power to police the marketing and labelling of wines made in Ontario, including (the VQA thought) the rights to restrict the use of certain geographical designators like “Ontario” and “Prince Edward County” to VQA-compliant wineries. In a recent decision, a non-VQA winery located in Prince Edward County won an appeal against the VQA’s over-restrictive order:
Yesterday (July 28, 2016) was a big day for The Old Third Vineyards, a small, boutique winery located in Prince Edward County. The Licence Appeal Tribunal ruled in their favour against the Vintner’s Quality Alliance Ontario (VQAO) compliance order that they remove “Prince Edward County” from The Old Third website.
The Old Third Vineyard is located in Prince Edward County. It is owned and operated by winemaker Bruno François and Jens Korberg. They make Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc wines, sold from their estates. Their wines have received ratings of 90 points or higher by esteemed wine experts Jamie Goode, John Szabo and Quench’s own Rick VanSickle. Each vintage – only one per year per variety – is bottled with a wine label that reads “Product of Canada”.
However, their website has a heading tagline that reads “Producers of fine wine and cider in Prince Edward County.” This is an issue for the VQA.
On February 3, 2016, VQA compliance officer Susan Piovesan emailed The Old Third with regards to the use of the geographic designation “Prince Edward County” on their website.
In other words, the VQA wanted to prevent the Old Third Vineyards from even revealing where in the country they were located because the legal designator for that area is also a restricted term for use by the VQA’s own wineries on wine bottle labels. Old Third wasn’t using it on a label, but as any common sense interpretation would agree, they have to indicate where customers can find them if they want to sell much of their wine … and they’re physically located in Prince Edward County, and said that on their website.
The VQA argued that The Old Third are trying to monopolize on the value the VQA has added to the term “Prince Edward County” by making it an official wine designation. The Tribunal disagreed: “The information conveyed in the banner … locates it geographically. Giving the words, in context, their ordinary meaning, they do not convey that the Appellant produces a Prince Edward County wine.”
The Tribunal’s ruling in favour of The Old Third shows that, even if an organization that regulates wine believes they own a term or regional name, it doesn’t mean they have the right to enforce their designations on those wineries that don’t wish to buy into the designation. The Old Third is a small vineyard in Prince Edward County and it will most likely remain that way.
And it’s these small wineries that first put Prince Edward County on the wine scene – there wouldn’t be a VQA designation for Prince Edward County if it weren’t for the wineries and estates that were producing quality wines long before the VQA came around in 2007: Waupoos Winery, The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Winery, Casa-Dea Estates Winery, By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery, Sandbanks Estates Winery… the list goes on (and on).
July 17, 2016
… at each tour we typically got the whole backstory of the business. And the consistent theme that ran through all of these discussions was the simply incredible level of regulation of the wine business that goes on in Napa. I have no idea what the public justification of all these rules and laws are, but the consistent theme of them is that they all serve to make it very hard for small competitors or new entrants to do business in the county. There is a board, likely populated by the largest and most powerful entrenched wine makers, that seems to control the whole regulatory structure, making this a classic case of an industry where you have to ask permission of your competitors to compete against them. There are minimum sizes, in acres, one must have to start a new winery, and this size keeps increasing. Recently, large winemakers have started trying to substantially raise this number again to a size greater than the acreage of any possible available parcel of land, effectively ending all new entrants for good. I forget the exact numbers, but one has to have something like 40 acres of land as a minimum to build a structure on the land, and one must have over 300 acres to build a second structure. You want to buy ten acres and build a small house and winery to try your hand at winemaking? — forget it in Napa.
It took a couple of days and a bunch of questions to put this together. Time and again the guide would say that the (wealthy) owners had to look and wait for a long time to find a piece of land with a house on it. I couldn’t figure out why the hell this was a criteria — if you are paying millions for the land, why are you scared to build a house? But it turned out that they couldn’t build a house. We were at this beautiful little place called Gargiulo and they said they bought their land sight-unseen on 3 hours notice for millions of dollars because it had a house AND a separate barn on it grandfathered. Today, it was impossible to get acreage of the size they have and build two structures on it, but since they had the barn, they could add on to it (about 10x the original size of the barn) to build the winery and still have a separate house to live in.
This is why the Napa Valley, to my eye, has become a weird museum of rich people. It seems to be dominated by billionaires who create just fantastically lovely showplaces that produce a few thousand cases of wine that is sold on allocation for 100+ dollars a bottle to other rich people. It is spectacularly beautiful to visit — seriously, each tasting room and vineyard is like a post card, in large part because the owners are rich enough to care nothing about return on capital invested in their vineyards. The vineyards in Napa seem to have some sort of social signalling value which I don’t fully understand, but it is fun to visit for a few days. But in this set-piece, the last thing the folks who control the county want is for grubby little middle-class startups to mess up their carefully crafted stage, so they are effectively excluded.
I know zero about wines, but from other industries this seems to be a recipe for senescence. It would surprise me not at all to see articles get written 10 years from now about how Napa wines have fallen behind other, more innovative areas. I have never been there, but my friends say newer areas like Paso Robles has an entirely different vibe, with working owners on small plots trying to a) actually make a viable business of it and b) innovate and try new approaches.
Warren Meyer, “My Nomination for Corporate State of the Year: Napa County, California”, Coyote Blog, 2016-07-08.
June 20, 2016
Published on 18 Jun 2016
Hey! I’m with Folk Singer/Songwriter AL STEWART in NYC at THE CITY WINERY! We talk greatest hits like the iconic YEAR OF THE CAT song, JOHN LENNON, todays world and happenings, his singing style, working with ALAN PARSONS, and MORE! Check out Al’s site for latest info and albums:) The Pavlina Show airs on radio stations across the nation:)
April 22, 2016
Last January, Harry Wallop attempted to match Winston Churchill’s daily intake of whisky, Pol Roger champagne, brandy, and sundry other “refreshers”. He found it a challenge beyond his ready ability:
One thing is certain: his fondness for kickstarting the day with what he called “mouthwash” — a weak whisky and soda, which he would take from about 9.30 onwards and keep continually topped up. But the whisky (simple Johnnie Walker, no fancy malt) would only just cover the bottom of the tumbler; the bulk of the drink was soda.
It’s a rather delightful way to start the day, as I discover. Especially, when consumed in bed. Churchill would frequently spend all morning in his dressing gown, under the covers, surrounded by papers and secretaries. He would also happily have meetings while taking a hot bath — a habit I did not attempt to replicate.
Lunch was when the serious drinking began. A whole bottle of champagne was the norm, invariably Pol Roger, a brand Churchill drank from at least 1908. His attachment was cemented in 1944, after meeting Odette Pol-Roger (the grand dame of the champagne house) at the British ambassador’s home in Paris, where the 1928 vintage was served in celebration of the liberation of France. She ensured he was never afterwards short of supplies.
A bottle, however, was for Churchill nearly always a pint-sized one, a fairly common measure until it was phased out by champagne houses in the 1970s. He would often drink it out of a silver tankard, still served this way in some gentlemen’s clubs.
A modern politico drinking like this would already have the horrified attention of his or her M.D., but Sir Winston’s liver may have been the most superhuman part of him:
I then spent the rest of the afternoon (or what was left of it), drinking more whisky and sodas while attempting to write an article — a task I found increasingly difficult. When I returned to it the following day, I discovered it was barely literate with every other word misspelled.
After dressing for dinner (bombs raining down on London was no reason to let standards slip), Churchill would often have a sherry. A glass of Amontillado failed to sharpen my jaded appetite. Worse, I was rather dreading the second pint of champagne over dinner.
I am aware this sounds churlish, but it became progressively joyless to get through all those bubbles. By 9.30pm I was slumped in front of ‘Death in Paradise’, working out if the plot or yet another glass was going to finish me off.
Churchill, by 10pm, would have been moving onto either port or his favourite 90-year-old brandy and at least four hours of hard work.
February 24, 2016
Then it was my turn. I was ready to rock the house with a little treasure I wanted to share with the group. I had kept it under wraps until nearly the very end and I was about to BLOW SOME MINDS (well, that was the plan).
First pouring the wine into 18 glasses, I then introduced this secret weapon: a “First Growth” Bordeaux, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1987. It is the most famous chateau in the world, Benjamin Franklin’s go-to wine, the most collected wine on the planet and the wine most copied for fraudulent gain. People have gone to jail because of this wine! Just read the Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace, and you will understand the essence of Lafite and why people who can afford it would do anything to get their hands on a bottle. Despite all the mystique and romance of Lafite, it is truly a thrilling wine and I brought a bottle of it to the Yukon, likely the first bottle of Lafite ever consumed in the territory’s vast wilderness.
It was old, a bit tired in fact, but had those mushroom-y, graphite, earthy-fruity notes on the nose that led to a complex palate, now totally integrated, with pretty red fruits, bramble and depth through a silky finish. It was down, but it was not out. At least my mind was blown. But I didn’t hear applause like there was for the rose.
There was just stunned silence, like “what the hell is this?,” until someone finally asked what a bottle of that would cost.
Well, if you could find one at auction, it’s goes under the hammer anywhere from $600 to nearly $1,000 a bottle, according to wine-searcher.com, I said.
More silence. And puzzled, icy stares.
Lee Mennell, a former teacher of mine, an artist and full-time Yukoner living the life in Carcross with his wife and family, finally spoke.
“I don’t really like it. It tastes old.”
It was like a dagger through the heart.
Old? Of course, it’s old. It’s from 1987. It’s Bordeaux, it’s supposed to be old. But, but … don’t you see the beauty and gracefulness in the evolution of the wine? A living, breathing thing that can transform into this grand old dame who can still impress with one sniff, one sip … don’t you see it?
It was head-scratching time for me; a reality check, a very important life lesson.
Rick VanSickle, “Buying wine as a gift isn’t rocket science; but sometimes it sure seems like it”, Wines in Niagara, 2016-02-05.
January 10, 2016
As a mortgage-paying parent, I don’t tend to dine at restaurants that employ sommeliers, so I can’t speak from personal experience about this “golden age”, but in the NY Eater, Levi Dalton says it’s coming to an end:
Prosecco sales are soaring in the United States. Rosé has been on fire as well. One aspect that these categories often share is that consumers don’t feel that they need a recommendation when making a choice among them. Consumers are comfortable purchasing these wines on their own. This is especially true of first-time wine buyers. Nielsen recently noted that, in the States, one third of Prosecco’s massive growth has come from buyers that never bought sparkling wine before. Prosecco is an entry point for consumers who are new to wine. What’s worth noting about that is that Prosecco is not a sommelier-driven category. Sommeliers typically shun Prosecco, and there are New York City wine directors that have gone on record as refusing to offer a Prosecco. What’s important about this is that although we think of sommeliers as introducing people to wine, it seems that consumers are choosing to find their own way into wine and that they are gravitating towards categories where a sommelier’s advice isn’t needed. In the same way that some movies are “critic proof,” obtaining large ticket sales even if the reviews for them are lukewarm, some wines have become “sommelier proof.”
A blow to consumer confidence in sommeliers has come from sommeliers themselves. It is now common — and not only common, but expected — that sommeliers will shill for their friends and their friends’ wines when speaking to the press. The excitement that sommeliers repeatedly express for wines in the press is wholly at odds with their level of excitement for those same wines in private, but this no longer applies to just one or two people who are fluent in media training — this is pretty much the industry at this point. Over and over again sommeliers publicly go on record endorsing wines that have little going for them on their own merits in the market except for some sort of personal tie with the sommelier.
This is at odds with what brought sommeliers to such prominence in the first place — which is that sommeliers introduced consumers to new wines that offered superb value in the face of a wine writing establishment that often continued to predictably endorse their own favorites even as prices for those wines skyrocketed and left most consumers behind. Sommeliers stayed with consumers and offered them great wines in their price range when critics didn’t. In place of that, a certain cynicism has set in with sommeliers in that they don’t seem to think readers will be able to tell the difference between a good recommendation and a personally motivated one. This has already been toxic to the reputation of sommeliers in general and will only continue to be more damaging unless the sommeliers themselves change their tune.
H/T to Brendan for the link.
January 1, 2016
Michael Cecire sings the praises of Georgian wine:
“America’s New Hot Wine,” blared a Washington Post headline. “Older and Wiser,” counsels the venerable Financial Times. “The next big food and wine destination,” offers Mashable, the beating heart of the web 2.0 zeitgeist. For Georgia and its ancient winemaking tradition, the plaudits have recently come thick and fast.
And for good reason: Georgian wine is generally superb. The country boasts an embarrassing bounty of unique native grape varietals, and ancient methods that continue to confound and delight the winemaking world. And in Georgian wine, geopolitically aware connoisseurs are offered a fine pairing for their onglet a l’echalotte (for me, I recommend the dark, fierce depth of the saperavi varietal) that doubles as a kind of repudiation of Russian militarism, while giving nods to a steadfast and dependable Western friend.
But Georgia’s wine is about far more than rich tastes or a convenient reflection of a simmering contemporary conflict. Georgia’s relationship with wine is deeply, nearly indescribably old and admixed into the very core of its culture. And it’s that ancient heritage and long history that imbue it with geopolitical significance even today.
Georgia is the birthplace of wine. According to recent archeological evidence, proto-Georgian inhabitants cultivated grapes and made wine as far back as 6000 BC. Some linguists even suggest the Georgian word for wine, ghvino, is what gave wine its name. Just as striking, many of the same methods that early Georgians used to make their wine — such as using wax-lined earthenware vessels known as qvevri buried in the ground — are traditions that continue even today. Qvevri winemaking is not only historically interesting (UNESCO recognized it in its list of intangible cultural heritage in 2013), but is increasingly dealing shocks to oenophiles for the complexity and varied tones of its wines.
Georgia’s wine is not only the national drink of choice, but a symbol of Georgian identity and civilizational continuity. There are not many places where grapes are seen tended and growing in central districts, on apartment block balconies, in storefronts, and even from dingy iron-doored garages, but the Georgian capital Tbilisi is festooned with vines. Almost every family, it seems, grows grapes and makes their own wine. Indeed, some of the very best vintages in Georgia may never come from a decanter, but from the spout of a repurposed Fanta bottle drawn from a makeshift marani, or rustic Georgian wine cellar.