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.

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.


Baldwine1 said...

I have an Uncle Larry

Bob Henry said...

The 2014 bottling reviewed by Neal Martin:

Not many retailers here in the States:

(I have a feeling your comment will draw a response from importer Broadbent Selections.)

Ziggy said...

Thankfully God invented screwcaps.

Anonymous said...

Um, I work in retail and would take a bottle back if it was a Brett too Favre......seriously, as a customer, your satisfaction is paramount and if you failed to appreciate the perfume of an NFL Lineman's twisted jockstrap in your wine, return it for a clean, jammy bottle of something less fragrant.....cheers, and thanks for the laughter.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Say Hi to Uncle Larry for me!

I bought it from Hi-Times in Costa Mesa. I love love love SA wines, and I thought a Tinta Barocca would be cool. Truthfully, I can't remember a Brettier wine. I did hear from a rep who offered to replace it with a different Sadie Family bottling. So Congrats to them. That's good service, though I'm not sure if I'll bother.

I like Stelvins, and I like corks. The Stelvin wouldn't have stopped the Brett, of course, so a screwcap wouldn't have helped. But you knew that.

I was a retailer once, too. I bought this via the Intergnats, so returning it is simply way too much trouble. Also, I'd like to think a good retailer wouldn't have purchased a wine with Brett issues that is unfiltered, despite the 95 point score. Though I'm sure it's also a rare enough wine that it probably wouldn't have been opened for a retailer. Thus, it's purchased because it got 95 points from a shortsighted reviewer. And now, at least in my bottle, because every bottle will vary, the Brett won by a wide margin.

In a competent wine competition, it would have been disqualified. I thought it might be fun to write about it. I didn't care about the money. I was just interested in what it all means for consumers who place their trust in reviewers, and what it means for folks who think unfiltered wine is always better.

David said...

Well a wine more bretty than Cornelissen must have brought them a few medals (or cowpats) at the nearest natural wine fair.

Nice to read a bit about your life without the hosemeister-hat on.


Bob Henry said...

"Interesting" that Hi-Times doesn't come as a California retailer selling the wine on Wine Searcher:

Maybe they discovered something untoward about the wine and subsequently walked away?

Being out of pocket $55 to $65 on a flawed bottle of vino is understandably frustrating.

You could have had Mike Officer’s Carlisle Limerick Lane 2013 Zinfandel:

The Brett-iest wine I ever had was 1985 Lynch-Bages . . . which even Parker called out in one of his early reviews. James Laube and James Suckling (tasting the same bottle together circa 1996) described it as having a "cheesy" character.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm not a Brett sheriff, but anyone who says they don't mind THAT much Brett is not someone I want to drink wine with. I spend way too much time writing to have a real life.

Hell, I only think I bought it from Hi-Times, I could be mistaken. I know I bought it online, and I don't think it was from elsewhere. No matter. I'm sure they only had a small amount, and maybe I bought one of the last bottles and it left their inventory. I did get some 2013 Limerick Lane Zin from Carlisle. It's just gorgeous. Hard to believe a wine that big and high in alcohol could be so balanced.

Aaron said...

Thanks for the writing, I'm certainly interested in that Chenin! Although I've sworn off on buying any more wine for a while. Sadly I need to drink some (ok, a LOT) to make room in my storage. Fancy problems, I know.

Samantha Dugan said...

Hi-Times....yet another crushing blow.
I miss you