For Up Portland:
I am a professional in the wine biz and have been for over 30 years. Retailer (both large and small), wholesaler, importer, winery CEO, wine journalist, teacher and author of the book Wine Maniacs Life in the Wine Biz; I have seen it all and lived to tell the tale. My wife Judy and I have lived in Portland for 13 years.
Wine today has reached unheard of levels of popularity, together with scarcely believable levels of myths vs. reality. In this monthly column I will probe and examine both…and have some fun while doing it. We will delve into your Tues. night wines, your special occasion wines and the wines you might need to pass on to your kiddies.
Josh Cellars Chardonnay, 2016, California, $10.00-$12.00. Josh is the creation of a variety of people in the biz: The Joseph Carr Winery, with label and marketing design by a famous designer named Tom Larson. Very elegant, subdued work. Get out your phone and do the Vivino app. label picture: WOW, adjectives abound. Wine adjectives add to the mystique. My favorite on this wine is “white fleshy stone fruits” reminding me of Mainers trotting out their freshly hibernated skins to the beach. This is a peck on the cheek oaked Chardonnay for fish and guacamole.
But there is more. When you google up Josh Cellars you get into the why you saw this wine part. The Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits are called a company of “brand building prowess”. They are the people who brought you Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and Yellow Tail Shiraz. Josh has become “a new growth engine in the California category” selling well over a million cases yearly. Deutsch now owns Josh Cellars with “ongoing opportunities for further expansion”. The wines continue to be good…stay tuned.
The other side of wine is exemplified by the American importer Kermit Lynch. He is a self-proclaimed hippie who traveled to France in the early 70’s and met an amazing set of characters. His book Adventures on the Wine Route is a modern classic. That is a story that has been told often. The other story is about his guru Richard Olney (1927-1999). Olney was a legendary food and wine writer in France, an American ex-pat who knew French food and wines as well as they themselves. “Something can be created by matching food with wine that surpasses either of them standing alone”. This was his lesson. There is nothing like a guru. Kermit wrote me a letter following an article I wrote years ago mentioning his guru “I miss him a lot. I used to catch myself buying for him, in my head, you know. I’d stumble upon something wonderful and say to myself, here’s one to show Richard”.
Kermit’s sales manager recently retired and sent out an e-mail describing his hiring interview held in a Denny’s: “on the back of a bar napkin he sketched out a general diagram (of the position and compensation package)”. Some things don’t change.
Kermit Lynch Selections Cotes du Rhone, 2016, $13.99. The importers name is usually buried on the back label. His are not, they are front and center. With his wines, you are buying his brand for a few more bucks, but you are also buying his extraordinary palate honed over decades. The wine is mostly grenache grapes, juicy and gulp able with a burger and fries and ketchup.
If you are a fan of Cabernet Franc, that illusive grape that usually vanishes in a blend, Charles Jouget Chinon, 2015, $20.00 is a classic of the grape with the flavors of red currants and herbs mingled with bell pepper aromas coming out of your glass. Lynch says it best. “One has the impression that Charles is out there on the edge, willing to take risks and willing to accept losses to make magic”. It is a perfect wine with eggplant dishes, and full-flavored cheese (think goat). Seek it out as it is worth laying down in the recesses of your basement.
There are lots of ways to be led to wine: the big marketing people, the importer who has spent a life traveling the back roads to get their wine into stores and onto wine lists, or just plain stumbling onto something. We adore the stumbling onto something part. On a restaurant list recently- there it was: Sean Thackery’s Pleades XXV Old Vines Table Wine, California, ($50.00 restaurant, $25.00 retail). If Josh is dressed down farmer corporate, and Kermit Lynch is hippie made good, then Sean Thackery is total California Outsider Artist extraordinaire. He happens also to delve into astrology.
What a resume! Reed College, Portland, Oregon dropout (see James Beard and Steve Jobs, both quasi-alums ), art gallery owner and voyager after old vine vineyards that produce seriously interesting grapes. Pleades XXV is just that. It is a field blend of Sangiovese, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Mourvedre. He hunts among old vineyards and blends what he chooses to be the finest grapes. “It’s like a chef’s special. You trust the chef, so you are prepared to order the dish of the day”. We paired it up with smoked salmon and I wrote on the bar napkin “drinks like a $100.00 Pinot Noir”. They can lead you, you can lead you, or you can just stumble on something extraordinary- it is a great ride.
( EDITOR’S NOTE: Layne can be reached at email@example.com for talks and consulting. His blogs are at http:// winemaniacs.wordpress.com/blog.
Next month we will explore the mysterious world of “Natural Wine”. It is a subject that provokes passion on both sides of the wine aisle: from the leading proponents like Alice Fairing “ chemical agriculture is wrong” to its detractors like the wine critic Robert Parker “it is one of the major scams being foisted on the wine consumer”. Or to paraphrase the great wine writer Jancis Robinson: Natural wines are hunting dogs, commercially made wines are lap dogs. Stay tuned.