Thursday, March 9, 2017
News, Reviews and Meretricious Persiflage
I wish I had more time to devote to HoseMaster of Wine™. Writing is hard work, and best avoided. My desk has a pile of ideas, tasting notes, business cards, clippings—some from newspapers, most from toes—and various and sundry experiments in contamination. I publish nonsense and tomfoolery on Mondays, but now and then I want to write about the rest of my life in wine, if only to keep a record for myself. I don’t know about you, but I find me fascinating. When people tell me to go fuck myself, I actually consider it. This happens a lot. If you don’t find me interesting at all, it’s not too late to leave. Maybe I’ll see you Monday.
I’m something of an idiot. I don’t solicit wine samples, or publish my address so that marketing geniuses can send me wine. Of course, I’ve heard many marketing types say they’d never send the HoseMaster wine. Cowards. Yet every now and then someone will contact me and offer to send me their latest releases. I don’t always write about the wines I receive (it isn’t very many or very often), but not because I don’t want to. It’s a combination of laziness and time. I need more time to be lazy. I’m going to try to correct that, starting with a couple of wines I received from a winery I was unfamiliar with, Gamling & McDuck. Yeah, that’s the name. Kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Like George W. Bush saying, “Nukular.”
“Gamling” is Gabrielle Shaffer. Adam McClary is “McDuck." Not to be confused with “MacDuck,” my favorite play by Shakespeare. (Classic line: “Something wicked this way waddles.”) I don’t know Gabrielle or Adam, but they sent me a bottle of Chenin Blanc and a bottle of Cabernet Franc—and a comic book. The comic book is cool. Adam has some comic book chops, and in this era of graphic novels, it’s a nice piece of work. It talks about their courtship, as well as vineyard sources, winemaking techniques and inspirations (Nicolas Joly, for example, a definite McDuck of a different cloaca). You have to admire the sense of play in these two winemakers. One of the things I like about the younger winemakers I meet today is that many of them, especially those with their own brands, refuse to take themselves too seriously. A few fall in love with their own press, but not that many.
But let’s talk about the wines. The 2015 Gamling & McDuck Chenin Blanc Mangel’s Ranch Suisun Valley is delicious. It’s obvious these two love the wines of the Loire Valley. This wine reminded me of a Francois Chidaine Chenin Blanc, a Montluis-sur-Loire maybe. They might have been going for a Nicolas Joly Savennières, I don’t know, but this ain’t that. It’s gorgeous, though. I love that Chenin Blanc is finding a place in the heart of young sommeliers. And there are some fantastic California Chenin Blancs being produced by the likes of Sandlands, Leo Steen, and Habit. The Gamling & McDuck belongs in their company. The Gamling & McDuck Chenin Blanc has wonderful, deep, rich fruit that’s right in the Chenin Blanc wheelhouse. I thought of baked apple, lemon curd, a ripe peach… There’s a very sure hand behind this wine. And it finishes with a sea breeze kind of saltiness that's breathtaking. All this for $26. I couldn’t stop drinking this. Buy some Suisuner rather than Luhlater.
Gabe (may I call you Gabe?) and Adam also sent along a bottle of 2014 Cabernet Franc from Pickberry Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, a vineyard made famous by Ravenswood. I had mixed feelings about the Cab Franc. It felt like a wine trying too hard to be a Loire Cab Franc while wrestling with its California ripeness. It’s very intense. It has great energy to it, but it never stopped feeling clunky to me. Whatever sensuality Cabernet Franc might have, and I always think of good Cab Franc as being rather seductive and sensual, seemed to be hidden behind the density of the wine. OK, so you’re wearing lingerie, but it’s under a heavy coat. (A look only a few of us can carry off.) I will say that as the wine unbuttoned it became more sensual and inviting, it flashed me some greatness, and I liked it with the herb roasted chicken I was eating as I tasted it. It’s a wine that’s on the savory, meaty, earthy spectrum rather than on the overtly fruity spectrum, which is a plus in my Franc book. So where does that leave us? The same mixed feelings I began with. It’s very well-made wine, I feel completely comfortable recommending it to Cab Franc lovers, $36 is a more than fair price, and it may blossom into greatness one day and make me look stupid. I think it’s worth a shot for the Cab Francophiles out there, and I think that Gamling & McDuck is a brand that deserves your attention and support.
I’d drink their Chenins any time. www.gamlingandmcduck.com
I met a very knowledgeable wine friend for dinner last week at Farmstead Restaurant in St. Helena. We always bring wine to share. She brought an absolutely fantastic sparkling wine from New Zealand, Quartz Reef NV Brut. Wow. You can’t get it in the US, I believe she told me they only produce about 400 bottles, but it was thrilling. I brought a Premier Cru Chablis that was outstanding, and I also brought a South African Tinta Barroca made by Sadie Family Wines in Swartland. I wonder if they have Swartphones there. No matter. The Tinta Barroca was buried beneath Brett. It smelled like a really fat guy wearing leather pants and no underwear who's been sitting on a Naugahyde couch watching porn. So, your uncle Larry. It was undrinkable.
The Tinta Barroca received 95 points from Neal Martin in The Wine Advocate. Not why I bought it, but notable. Now, it may have had an acceptable level of Brett when he reviewed it (if you believe, as I do, that there is an acceptable level of Brett). If Sadie Family Wines didn’t filter the wine, and I suspect they didn’t, it’s the only explanation that makes sense, then the Brett, over time, would get worse and worse. That's almost certainly what happened.
Here’s what I’m wondering. Why is it that if the wine had been corked I easily would have been able to return it to the shop where I bought it, but when it’s covered in Brettanomyces, I probably couldn’t have? That seems backward to me. The winery isn’t really responsible for corkiness—the cork producer is. The winery is absolutely responsible for Brett contamination. It’s very simple to get a wine tested for the presence of Brett before you decide to bottle it unfiltered. It’s irresponsible not to, really. Giving Neal Martin the benefit of the doubt (and he clearly likes Brett), this might have been a 95 point wine when he tasted it. Now, let’s say on the basis of that score you buy a case. Years later, when you begin to open those bottles, you find a nasty, chemical soup that smells like NFL lineman butt. Whose fault is that? And isn’t that every bit the waste of a good wine a corked bottle represents? Wineries kill themselves trying to prevent TCA. What about Brett bombs?
So corked, and I get a refund or a replacement bottle (I wouldn’t want a replacement for a Bretty bottle). Incompetent and negligent winemaking? Eat shit. I never thought I’d say this, but, damn, I wish the bottle had been corked.