Eloro?

THE SICILIAN WINES OF RIOFAVARA

by Anthony Lynch

You are likely unfamiliar with this wine zone of southeast Sicily, just outside the hilltop town of Ispica and its stunning Baroque architecture. More likely you know its star grape variety, Nero d’Avola. While it can be found all over Sicily, Nero d’Avola takes on another dimension in the white, chalky soils of the Eloro appellation—the grape is said to have originated nearby, and it arguably makes its greatest wines here. Breezes coming off the Mediterranean temper the decidedly hot, arid climate (these are Italy’s southernmost vineyards, on the same latitude as Tunis), while the abundant limestone ensures the roots of the vines stay cool, preserving acidity and giving the wines a welcome freshness. While Nero d’Avola produces pleasant wines for easy drinking all across Sicily, nowhere else does it reach the complexity, grandeur, and refinement possible in Eloro.

   A great terroir, of course, is only half the equation: it takes a talented vignaiolo to harness the natural richness of the territory and put it into bottle. That man is Massimo Padova, who founded the Riofavara estate in 1994. The dry conditions in southern Sicily are naturally favorable to organic agriculture, but the pursuit of quantity over quality meant that industrial farming dominated until only recently. In addition to pioneering organic viticulture in the region, Massimo became the first to vinify with native yeasts, seeking authentic expressions of Nero d’Avola from his low-yielding, dry-farmed vines. His visionary approach and uncompromising precision in his work result in wines of great harmony that ally Nero d’Avola’s intense blackness with lively fruit and silky-smooth tannins.

2013 ELORO NERO D’AVOLA “SPACCAFORNO” >

Here is a soft, round, deliciously accessible Nero d’Avola that escapes the grape’s all-too-common pitfalls of overripeness, excessive alcohol, and low acidity. The perfume suggests blackberries, violets, and baked earth, while the aging in used barrels and unfiltered bottling have given a velvety, pulpous texture. While the Spaccaforno is at home alongside most Mediterranean-inspired dishes, you might consider exploring the unique, almost exotic cuisine of Sicily, with its Arab influences, for a next-level pairing.

$22.00 per bottle $237.60 per case

2013 ELORO NERO D’AVOLA “SCIAVÈ” >

From a parcel of the estate’s oldest vines, the Sciavè is by all means a bigger, badder, and brawnier brother to the Spaccaforno. Everything is black: the color, the fruits its aromas suggest, the tarry concentration, its notes of licorice, and the spice elements that prickle the sides of the palate. For all its outright power, this beast of a wine boasts an acidity that keeps things refreshing, along with tannins of remarkable finesse.

$35.00 per bottle $378.00 per case

2012 SPUMANTE EXTRA BRUT >

Massimo also grows some Moscato, which he vinifies bone-dry to fully capture the chalkiness of his terrain. This exotically perfumed sparkler is unlike anything you’ve ever tried. Guava, orange blossom, passion fruit, and wildflowers race across the palate like a lightning bolt, and its fine, persistent bead cleanses the palate with delicacy and class. You’ll try many sparkling wines from all throughout Italy, but the marriage of the Moscato grape with this stony Mediterranean terroir is unrivaled.

$29.00 per bottle $313.20 per case

From the Archives… Provence

by Kermit Lynch

Sometimes I feel under appreciated because some people think my life is one big vacation. They don’t realize the effort it can take to obtain a decent bottle of wine.

Yesterday, for example, I had to spend practically the entire day at Cassis. It is not like I can just taste the wine, agree on a price, and go home. No, I had to drive down to the harbor with the winemaker, jump from the pier onto his bobbing boat, and motor out onto the Mediterranean, scene of countless shipwrecks. The sun’s heat was blazing. I tried not to think of ozone depletion, sunburn, skin cancer … We had no choice but to jump into the cooling sea. Luckily I happened to be wearing a bathing suit. Just as I was about to dive in, I noticed a school of inch-long jellyfish floating by. Their sting can momentarily paralyze you and leave you in pain for days. I wondered, is this really worth it?

We motored out to safer waters and, finally, almost faint from heat prostration, I plunged into the cool blue water, a blue so beautiful I could barely stand it.

But still it was not over. Back at the domaine with its panoramic view of the cliffs and beaches of Cassis, I had to shelter myself under a tree and wait until the coals were ready for grilling a few local fish. Once they were cooked, we washed them down with some Cassis. (Of course. What do you think, a winemaker is going to serve me any wine other than his or her own? I told you this job is no vacation.)

But sitting there I finally got something accomplished. I was working it out in my mind: fish, Cassis, wine, Cassis wine, fish, fishing, etc., and all of a sudden it came to me. The white wine of Cassis was not invented to be shipped all over the world. It exists because once upon a time long ago the population of Cassis, a simple fishing village, needed something to drink with their catch, or seafood, as we call it. I thought to myself, why not recommend to my clientele that the next time they eat seafood, they drink a wine created to drink with it, Cassis. It works.

[From the September 1998 Newsletter]

Currently available in our Berkeley shop:

2015 CASSIS BLANC    CLOS SAINTE MAGDELEINE >
$32.00 per bottle     $345.60 per case

 

A Night on the Town with Marco Tintero

by Anthony Lynch

Meeting Marco Tintero for the first time, several years ago at his winery in the Piedmont town of Mango, proved an exciting event for me. A longtime drinker—guzzler, if we’re being honest—of his humbly priced frizzanti, I had long looked forward to getting to know the man behind them. And Marco did not disappoint.

The evening began with perhaps the most casual tasting of my career, Marco jovially pouring wines in between hacks at a tasty homemade salame. As I swirled, swished, and spat each sample, I noticed that my host instead downed the contents of each glass as if it were nothing. He is certainly of sturdy build and was no doubt thirsty after a long day out in his steep vineyards, but the man sure could drink.

And yet, quaffing glass after glass of Marco’s wines in all three colors seemed completely natural. No need to take detailed notes in this tasting; these are simple, unpretentious, and absolutely delicious wines that quench thirst and inspire the kind of convivial atmosphere that radiates from the Tintero household.

His generosity extended throughout the evening. As luck would have it, the annual Mango village celebration took place that night, and the entire town teemed with festive energy. We loaded up the car with several cases and took off into the night, ready for whatever Piemontese debauchery might transpire.

Sadly, anecdotes of the late-night antics cannot be divulged here. After all, as the locals say, What happens in Mango, stays in Mango.*

2016 VINO ROSATO >

This dry Barbera-based rosato has just the right amount of sparkle to tickle your tongue as it slides down your gullet. Aperitivo? Sì. Salumi? Certo. Picnic? Assolutamente.

$9.95 per bottle $107.46 per case

2016 VINO ROSSO >

The rosso is a blend of local grape varieties made in a soft, fruit-forward style that perfectly lends itself to pairings with Piemontese cuisine, Italian cuisine in general, and, indeed, most food groups. It drinks well on its own, too. Bottled with a screw cap for your convenience.

$9.95 per bottle $107.46 per case

2016 MOSCATO D’ASTI “SORÌ GRAMELLA” >

The new vintage is simply irresistible—the perfume alone is enough to make a field of wildflowers jealous. To impress your date, pour a glass over a bowl of ripe strawberries cut into bite-sized pieces with a sprinkle of chopped mint, if you are so inclined. Then spoon the Moscato-bathed berries into your mouth as you sip a goblet of the very same nectar on the side.

$12.00 per bottle $129.60 per case

Corsican Pancakes

by Steve Waters

One of the highlights of my recent tasting trip to France and Italy were the “Migliaccioli,” cheese and herb pancakes, that we were served while visiting Anne Amalric at Domaine de Marquiliani in Corsica. I must have eaten at least fifteen of them myself. Thank you, Anne!

Caterina Brault-Maraini, who runs our office in France and led the tasting trip, sent me the recipe and I recreated them at home to critical acclaim. They didn’t last long.

Below is the recipe. I doubled the amount of ingredients listed below which covered six adults and a few children. I used fromage blanc and ricotta for the cheeses, and diced green onion and chives. Squeeze in some Meyer lemon juice, a bit of milk, and a liberal amount of salt. The Italian dried fennel powder we sell in the retail store in Berkeley (“Fiore di Finocchio”) was also a welcome addition to the mixture.

Corsican Pancakes

600 g fresh cheese (goat or sheep)
150 g flour
1 egg
Squeeze of lemon juice
A little bit of water or whey (milk works too)
Salt

You mix all the ingredients together with a fork until smooth and then you cook them as pancakes, scooping the batter on to a buttered, hot surface.

Burgundy

by Dixon Brooke

Simply mentioning the word Burgundy is enough to raise the blood pressure of most serious wine lovers. In eastern central France, two hours west of Switzerland, Burgundy is nestled between the wine regions of Champagne to the north, the Jura to the east, the Loire to the west, and the Rhône to the south. This is the terroir par excellence for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The saying that “All roads lead to Burgundy” makes geographic sense and also logically refers to the path most often followed by those who commit their life to the pleasures of fine wine. Since Burgundy has more documented subplots and appellations than any other wine region on earth, the rewards are endless for those who do their homework. What follows is a guide to Burgundy’s various subregions, a bit of history, and a few words on its current state of affairs.

      The southeast-facing hillside between Dijon in the north and Maranges in the south is known as the Côte d’Or or “golden slope.” This thirty-five-mile-long, gentle slope composed of limestone and clay is probably the most valuable piece of wine real estate in the world. The Côte d’Or comprises two main sections: the Côte de Nuits between Corgoloin and Dijon is the northern sector, named after the principal village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and the Côte de Beaune runs south from Ladoix-Serrigny to Maranges and is (of course) named after the Burgundian capital of Beaune. Both areas produce magnificent whites and reds, although the Côte de Beaune produces more white wine and the Côte de Nuits more red.

     While the Côte d’Or is the most famous part of Burgundy, three other major areas complete its scope. Chablis, roughly eighty-three miles northwest of Beaune along the route to Paris, is Burgundy’s northern outpost, known for its flinty and age-worthy Chardonnays planted in Kimmeridgian limestone on an ancient seabed. (The same soil type is found in the Aube area of southern Champagne and farther west in Sancerre.) Vézelay is a smaller area south of Chablis with similar qualities, although the limestone there is not Kimmeridgian. The wines of the Montanet family are our proud representatives of this wonderful part of Burgundy. This northern area of Burgundy that includes Chablis and Vézelay, among other appellations, is also known as the Yonne, after its main river.

     To the south of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise extends from Chagny on its northern end (just south of Chassagne-Montrachet) down past Chalon-sur-Saône, from which this area takes its name. The Chalonnaise encompasses the appellations of Bouzeron in the north—known for the Aligoté grape—followed by Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny. Mercurey and Givry are the Pinot Noir strongholds, whereas Rully and Montagny are largely planted to Chardonnay.

    Directly south of the Chalonnaise near Tournus begins the Côte Mâconnais, which extends south past Mâcon to the hamlets of Fuissé, Vinzelles, Chaintré, and Saint-Véran. The next village moving south is Saint-Amour-Belleville, the northernmost village of the Beaujolais. The Mâconnais is prime Chardonnay country and contains an incredible diversity of soils. There is serious excitement and value to be found here.

    A brief note on the Beaujolais: while the region of Burgundy encompasses the northern part of the Beaujolais around La Chapelle de Guinchay (including the cru of Saint-Amour and parts of the crus of Moulin-à-Vent and Chénas), the majority of the Beaujolais—with its predominantly granite soils where the Gamay grape reigns king—is in Rhône and is excluded from this overview.

   The proud region of Burgundy, whose rich history stretches back to the fifth century ad, is currently being buffeted by the forces of change. Two pressures are particularly significant. The first is climate change, which is delivering volatile weather in the form of early bud break followed by ravaging spring frosts and then by violent hailstorms in June and July. This meteorological upset is happening with a consistency that the vignerons and their forebears have never known, and it has devastated their vineyards and put them in severe financial difficulty. Mother Nature’s vagaries have led to the second major disruption: outside investment.

    The stalwart Burgundian families who have been the stewards of their land for centuries and have passed along their savoir faire from generation to generation are in danger of losing the ground beneath their feet. Land prices are skyrocketing, tax and inheritance laws are penalizing, and the cost of the real estate in the overwhelming majority of cases cannot be recuperated in the price of their wine. The current model is not sustainable for this great Burgundian lineage of vignerons. The only thing we as merchants can do to combat these powerful forces is to support our independent growers by paying them a price for their wine that allows them to hold onto their land, cede it to their children, and endure the storms that seem to come every year now. (And we all should do our part to combat climate change.) Believe me, the cost of running a small domaine in Burgundy with sustainable viticulture is incredibly high, and these growers are not living high on the hog.

From the archives… The Birthmark

by Kermit Lynch

At San Francisco State in the 1960’s, I took an incredibly rewarding course called something like American Studies, in which we tried to find clues to American character by reading Emerson, Melville, Paine, Thoreau, Hawthorne and others. I was especially taken by one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories, “The Birthmark,” although it did not dawn on me then that is was about wine. The story stuck with me even more than The Scarlet Letter. It featured a beautiful babe (who could have married more wisely) and had lots of significance that is ever more significant. Have a read and see for yourself. It is only about two glasses of Bandol rosé long.

The beautiful babe is obviously a metaphor for a bottle of great wine. Her husband, Dr. Something-or-other, is a celebrated scientific genius who cannot stand that his wife is a perfect beauty except, EXCEPT (it really is too vitally important to him) for the fact that she has a birthmark, which for him is an imperfection. He experiments in his lab for years developing a serum that will erase her blemish. Convinced that he has found the “cure” (although she is perfectly healthy), he injects her with his potion and watches as the birthmark fades and disappears for (if I remember correctly) her cheek, just as she exhales her last breath.

The birthmark is obviously a metaphor for a wine’s deposit, or sediment. The “cure” is filtration. However, according to “The Birthmark,” perfection = death.

The moral is, accept a little sediment or you might destroy the very beauty you seek to perfect.

And so you see that my crusade against filtration is not a quibble, but a matter of life and death.

[From the April ’02 Newsletter]

Sesti

by Anthony Lynch

In 1975, when Giuseppe Sesti purchased the hilltop ruins of the Castello di Argiano in the southern part of the Brunello di Montalcino zone, the local wine had yet to achieve the international prestige it enjoys today. Production methods tended toward the rustic, and very few estates bottled the deeply colored, rich red wine we now associate with the area. In fact, these Tuscan slopes remained so wild that Giugi was able to acquire the roughly 250 acres of woodland—crumbling Etruscan stone tower included—at a nominal fee.

Well-educated and well-traveled, Giugi took advantage of his language skills to translate for foreign journalists and merchants looking to capitalize on Brunello’s rising status, as the wine earned a worldwide reputation as one of Italy’s rarest and most sumptuous wines. Touring the cellars gave him firsthand exposure to pioneering producers, and, ever the scholar, he was keen to take note of the factors in the vineyards and cellars that led to superior wine. Ultimately, this Venetian-born astronomer became a Brunello specialist.

Eager to put what he had learned to good use, Giugi planted nine hectares of vines on the slopes around the old castello in 1991. Pampered by marine breezes channeled from the Mediterranean, the site is prone to yielding wines that ally luxurious Tuscan sunshine with a fresh elegance from the unique microclimate. Giugi’s background in astronomy plays a role in viticulture and winemaking, as lunar cycles dictate the timing of vineyard and cellar operations like pruning, racking, and bottling. Aging only in traditional Slavonian oak casks allows him to preserve the inherent qualities Sangiovese draws from his meticulously farmed vineyards. Now joined by his daughter, Elisa, Giugi continues to craft wines of exceptional purity—a combination of great terroir, a brilliant mind, and flawless execution that yields some of Tuscany’s most exquisite reds.

2015 TOSCANA ROSSO “MONTELECCIO” >

A selection in the cellar isolates the least structured of the year’s crop, which is bottled after just a year in cask. The result is plush and refined, with abundant young Sangiovese fruit that is particularly dark and toothsome this vintage. Mediterranean herbs, a hint of spice, and extremely fine tannins make this the quintessential red for the Tuscan table.

$25.00 per bottle $270.00 per case

2015 ROSSO DI MONTALCINO >

It greets the palate like velvet, then unleashes a wild side: black cherry, spices, a bloody note, and finally a gutsy finish that leaves something to ponder long after it’s gone. This Rosso does not mess around.

$39.00 per bottle $421.20 per case

2012 BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO >

The perfume is truly regal: rich, fragrant, and balmy, exuding suggestions of earth, sweet spices, and pine forest. Dense, deep, and imposing on the palate, it is concentrated and fleshy, with tannins as thick and chewy as a well-seasoned bistecca. In fact, serve with said bistecca, or—alternatively—stash away for a long, long time.

$92.00 per bottle $993.60 per case

Charm for Sale

by Kermit Lynch

I don’t know about you, but at times I’m in the mood for black cherries, even though they may not be in season. So, what to do? Take, for example, these two 2015 Dolcettos. Take one, it’s yours! However, it will cost you a few bucks. A few, not many. The best things in life are not always free.

I see on Amazon that one can still purchase Victor Hazan’s very special, very handy book, Italian Wines. Here are some excerpts about Dolcetto:

Those who recognize in Dolcetto’s name the Latin root it shares with Italian, Spanish, French, and English words for sweet—dolce, dulce, douce, dulcet—may be puzzled to find it is a totally dry wine. Sweetness, however, is an appropriate term to describe the character, if not the taste, of Dolcetto. It is an intensely fruity, soft-bodied wine, low in acid, high in charm, one whose easy drinking qualities make it the most instantly attractive of Piedmont’s red wines.

The locals say that if you analyze a sample of their blood, half of it will turn out to be Dolcetto.

That Dolcetto should be paramount in the affections of people whose region produces Italy’s most important red wines is testimony to its substantial charms.

Parts of Dolcetto country are also in Barolo country, but when you sit down to eat with the family of a man who makes both wines, if you are more a friend than guest, it will be Dolcetto rather than Barolo that you’ll find on the table.

Welcome to 2015 and two Dolcettos as good as I’ve ever tasted. Enter the world of delicious, ripe, black cherry intensity. Breathe in deeply the amazing aroma. The flavors coat your taste buds! You who share my hunger for black cherries, don’t miss it. All the rest of you, you’re welcome to enjoy it, too.

Diano d’Alba, by the way, is a very special terroir in Piedmont expressly devoted to Dolcetto. It produces Piedmont’s most charming red wine. My advice: a little charm won’t do you no harm.

IL PALAZZOTTO

per bottle

per case

2015 Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba “Sörì Cristina” >  

$16.95

$183.06

2015 Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba  >
“Sörì Santa Lucia”

19.00

205.20

From the archives… The Apéro File

by Kermit Lynch

[a follow-up to Jim Harrison’s My Problems with White Wine]

By actions, not words, Richard Olney taught me the virtues of the daily apéro, which is French slang for an apéritif. My Webster’s defines apéritif as “an alcoholic beverage, especially wine, taken before meals to stimulate the appetite.” Taken? Well, that’s not why I “take” apéritifs.

And there is a French definition from 1750: “qui ouvre les pores, les canal, les vaisseau.” Quite physical, that one, the apéro serving to open one’s pores, blood vessels, and assorted other bodily systems. Serving to open… an opener, that’s the apéritif. Aperture is from the same root. An apéritif opens the evening, the meal, the festivities, and it might as well also open up oneself.

When I used to drive up the steep, narrow driveway to Richard’s place in Provence, we would embrace in the French style, then sit down under his arbor of grape vines for an apéritif. As the sun sank lower and lower, a bowl of black olives would appear, slices of saucisson, and iced radishes with butter and salt. The wine flowed, as did the conversation.

Often the apéritif was a cheap little dry white or rosé, always well chosen. Richard referred to them as mouth rinse. What a wonderfully unsnobby perspective! He ordered Fontsainte’s Gris de Gris several cases at a time. Once in a while his mood led him to open with something a little grander, like Tempier’s rosé, or a bottle of nicely chilled Champagne. “The genius of Champagne seems to me best experienced at the apéritif hour,” he wrote in one of his books.

Jim Harrison quotes Peter Lewis’s remark that white wine “fatigues us and doesn’t promote unbridled lust,” but he must be referring to those kinds of whites that Jim finds syrupy enough to put on pancakes, because a good white starter should relax and stimulate at the same time. You want something dry and crisp, chilled and lucid, with some zing to it.

My reaction to Jim’s article? Never a red without a white to precede it; never a white without a red to follow it. I am convinced that the Creator had a plan, if only in this specific instance.

But before I turn spiritual on you, consider how the arrival of the dread oenologists on the wine scene contributed to Jim’s prejudice against most white wine’s. Once upon a time (all the way up until around 1970, in fact), wines second fermentation, the malolactic fermentation, was not understood. It occurred spontaneously in barrel along with or after the alcoholic fermentation. Once it was understood, this gift of nature (which renders wines more interesting and swallowable) began to be blocked technologically in a lot of white and rosé wines. It is easy to block malo. You add a good dose of sulphur dioxide (yuck) and you sterile filter (yikes).

Why would anybody want to do that? Stability. Facility. Security. Once the wine is dosed and dead, the oenologists sleep better, because dead wines don’t budge. They might lack depth, smell of SO2, and cut your palate to shreds with untransformed magic acid, but then Pleasure 1A was never a course offering at Oenology U.

Choosing openers, I seem to go through stages. For long periods Tempier’s rosé can hit the spot day after day. Then I’ll go on a flinty, crisp Loire jag: Epiré, Minet, Reverdy, Brégeon, and so on. This year has been a white Burgundy year, and I find myself regularly opening my evenings with a Meursault or Chablis, usually with some but not too much age. I thought it was interesting that besides reds, Harrison specified liking Meursaults, because almost all Meursaults and other white Burgundies do complete that second fermentation I was talking about. So do all reds, and so indeed does Tempier’s rosé, so I’m guessing that the malolactic fermentation plays a role in Jim’s wine preferences. It sure does in mine. At Chablis, a lot of lazy winemakers have now, god forbid, joined the “block-that-malo” club, but I promise that you will never find one here.

Anyway, this year I have been going though my 1990 premier crus from Raveneau. Also any of his 1994s. Vintages 1991, 1992, and 1994 from Jobard. Coche’s 1988s. Chevillon’s white Nuits-Saint-Georges make a great opener, as does the Vézeley blanc. And don’t forget the light little sparkler, Prosecco, which the Venetians “take.”

To those readers who have braved these pages of verbal thicket, here is your reward, if you choose to see it that way, The Apéro Sampler. None of these are good on pancakes, but may your lust be unbridled.

The Apéro Sampler

[links below navigate to current vintage, if available]

NV Prosecco di Valdobbiadene • Adriano Adami
2001 Bordeaux Blanc • Château Ducasse >
2001 Côtes du Rhône Blanc • Château du Trignon
2001 Muscadet sur Lie • Michael Brégeon >
2001 Cheverny • Domaine du Salvard >
2001 Bianco di Custoza • Corte Gardoni >
2000 Bourgogne Blanc “Les Clous” • A. and P. de Vilaine >
2000 Chablis • Olivier Savary >
2000 Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc • Ermitage di Pic Saint Loup >
2000 Mâcon-Farges • Henri Perusset >
1999 Savennières “Cuvée Spéciale” • Château d’ Epiré >
1999 Cassis • Clos Sainte Magdeleine >

Normally $170.55
Special Sampler Price $125.00

[From the September 2002 Newsletter]

From the archives … My Problems with White Wine

by Jim Harrison

MAY WE POLITICIZE WINE? I will if I wish. This is a free country though it is quickly becoming less so. I have noted, for instance, that the Bay Area has become fatally infected with the disease of sincerity. Last early December in San Francisco I naively looked for a bar where I might enjoy a glass of wine and a cigarette. Instead I sat in the park across from the Huntington Hotel without wine, smoking an American Spirit and welcoming the frowns of a passel of dweebs doing Tai Chi. They birdlike lifted their legs as if afflicted with farting fits. When I lived briefly in San Francisco in 1958 it was an active seaport full of jubilance, music, merriment, and heartiness. The morning I left town on my recent trip I heard of a local campaign against the evils of butter.

All of which is to say that you can’t talk about wine without the context in which it exists, like life herself. Even in non-Marxian economic terms it is far more difficult to find a favorable white wine at a decent price than a red. Is it partly because the aforementioned sincere people who drink only white wine have driven the price up or because they are dumb enough to drink any swill if it doesn’t own life’s most vital color, the color of our blood?

We certainly don’t celebrate the Eucharist with white wine. Christ couldn’t have spent thirty days in the wilderness alone fueled by white blood. The great north from which I emerge demands a sanguine liquid. White snow calls out for red wine, not the white spritzers of lisping socialites, the same people who shun chicken thighs in favor of characterless breasts and ban smoking in taverns. In these woeful days it is easy indeed to become fatigued with white people, white houses, white rental cars.

That said, let’s be fair. The heart still cries out for a truly drinkable white under 20 bucks. I’ve tried dozens and dozens. I need white wine when I eat fish and shellfish. Of late several have been acceptable if not noteworthy: Château de Lascaux, Reuilly, a Les Carrons Pouilly-Fuissé and an Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup kept me alive until I could get my main course and restorative red.

Whenever I have wine or food problems I consult Mario Batali in New York, or Gerard Oberle in Burgundy, France, but my most reliable trump card is Peter Lewis in Seattle, whom I consider to have the most wide-ranging and educated palate in North America. In recent correspondence Lewis said common “white wines tend to the flaccid. The ‘international style’ in which they’re made these days emphasize the exotic: the overly floral, tropical phenolic profile coupled to heavy-handed oak treatment strip the fruit of its delicacy; whereas the truly exotic, as in Viognier from Château Grillet or Lys de Volan, combines true power with all femininity of peach fuzz and honeysuckle (the seductive quality of the minute hairs on the back of a woman’s thigh in high summer). There!

But isn’t life a struggle to gather the funds to cover one’s vices? For 30 years since I first had a glass I’ve had an affection for Meursault, even lesser vintages than those of Henry Boillot. I’ve drunk Meursault when the weather was a tad chilly, say in the early spring with a simple sauté of sweetbreads, fresh morels, and a few wild leeks. To be sure my single eye flickers to the red sitting on the sideboard in readiness for the substantial main course. I wouldn’t drink the Meursault alone unless it was over 90 degrees and I was sitting with a French vixen in a shaded courtyard in Beaune and she demanded the wine. Any fool except maybe a congressman loves Chassagne-Montrachet. I could drink three bottles of Didier Dagueneau’s Sauvignon Blanc with a gross of oysters in Concale if there were an available bed three feet away for my nap. The bed would be on a pier and the great French singer Esther Lammandier would croon a medieval ditty.

I see that women and food rather than government can help me abolish my prejudices, also an extremely fat wallet. Once before giving a poetry reading I was handed a glass of cheapish California Chardonnay and I said, “This might be good on pancakes if you were in the wilderness.” I actually chewed on the tip of a cigar to cleanse my mouth.

I admit I love Domaine Tempier rosé, which is about $25, and find Château La Roque Rosé at $12 a more acceptable deal in this twist world of color and flavor compromise. I drink the latter because my wife and daughters drink it so it’s right there within reach, an important qualification. I just recalled that on a warmish day last year I also liked a Côtes du Rhône blanc from Sang des Cailloux with barbecued rabbit (a basting sauce of butter, garlic, lemon, tarragon, and dry vermouth).

White wine is Apollonian, the wine of polite and dulcet discourse, frippish gossip, banal phone calls, Aunt Ethel’s quiche, a wine for those busy discussing closure, healing, the role of the caretaker, the evils of butter, the wine of the sincerity monolithic. It occasionally, of course, rises to greatness, and you may have some if you’ve been economically diligent or are an heir of some sort. I’m sure that even the cheaper varieties have brought thousands of soccer moms sanity-healing sex fantasies.

We drink with with our entire beings, not just our mouths and gullets. Temperaments vary. My mother used to torture me with the question “What if everyone were like you?” I have it on good authority that both Dionysus and Beethoven drank only red wine while Bill Gates and a hundred thousand proctologists stick to the white. Peter Lewis added in a letter that we’re not crazy about white wine because we don’t get crazy after drinking it, because we tend not to break into song or quote García Lorca after drinking it, because white wine doesn’t make us laugh loudly, because it fatigues us and doesn’t promote unbridled lust, because it pairs less well with the beloved roasted game birds whose organs we love to suck and whose bones we love to gnaw.

Yes, we’re fortunate that everyone isn’t like me. I recall Faulkner saying, “between scotch and nothing I’ll take scotch.” Meursault isn’t the color of blood but it’s the color of sunlight, a large item in itself.

[From the August 2002 Newsletter]

Currently available in our Berkeley shop:

A REALLY BIG LUNCH

THE ROVING GOURMAND ON FOOD AND LIFE

by Jim Harrison

$26.00