From the archives…The words and wines of André Ostertag

by André Ostertag

Alas, I barely have any memory of my previous lives, and although I am willing to bet that I was an innkeeper, a drunkard, or at least your common wine drinker, as much as I search my memory I cannot recall what wine tasted like back then.

Luckilly, yet too rarely, I have at times had the opportunity to lower my nose into a glass of old Burgundy from the beginning of the century or a pre-war Alsatian wine, but each time a romantic dizziness swept me away from objective analysis.

One thing is certain, the wines of yesteryear have the power to set our spirits afire. Their rarity, their glorious age, and the weight of history, command our respect and impel us toward contemplation. Such tastings are always stamped by an almost religious emotion. And even if it should happen that such a wine shows a flaw or two, the emotion felt when drinking them renders the experience unique and unforgettable. Thus they will always seem superior to today’s wines.

Nevertheless, wine has never been so intelligent as it is today. Our engineers, oenologists, and technicians of all varieties have made possible a spectacular leap in quality. Actually, good wine will soon become an everyday beverage found in bars, bistros, and shopping carts. Quality has democratized itself so much that Saint Marketing, who never ignores our weaknesses and who anticipates our desires, has finally cut us short of any sense of surprise. It is horrible to say it, but quality has become banal!

Above all, this kind of quality is a reflection of technical advances and consumer fads. However, true quality is that which succeeds in surprising and moving us. It is not locked inside a formula. Its essence is subtle (subjective) and never rational. It resides in the unique, the singular, but it is ultimately connected to something more universal. A great wine is one in which quality is contained. Such a wine will necessarily be uncommon and decidedly unique because it cannot be like any other, and because of this fact it will be atypical, or only typical of itself.

Modern man, in his eagerness to understand everything in order to master it, spends his time classifying, filing, and organizing. It is obvious that the indefinable, the unclassifiable, and the unusual confuse our modern thought processes. So it should come as no surprise that the notion of terroir suffers while the grape variety gains importance, or the “commercially correct” spectrum of aromas is confined to the fresh, easy, and simple to the detriment of more unusual aromas (mineral notes, lees, and so on).

Today the definition of quality wine is one that should give equal pleasure at any moment, night or day, from one’s cradle to one’s deathbed. As if wine were nothing but a vulgar consumer object, sleek and docile, a little pet devoted to not disturbing our moods or classifications. However, it seems to me that in the old days wine was more capricious, more erratic, no doubt, yet its personality was more pronounced. There were no clonal selections. Each plot of vines represented a variety of different rootstocks. A wine bore more than now the imprint of its vintage, because the weather conditions and their direct consequences on a wine were less easy to remedy by treating the vines or correcting later in the cellar laboratory.

However, the real change took place above all in the relationship or exchange between man, his vines, and his wine. Before, a winemaker had to maintain an intimate, direct rapport with the elements. He had to link himself to things, allow them to become a living part of himself, to penetrate his soul, his gut, in order to feel and understand them.

Had he any other choice? There was no protection against disease or pests in the vineyard. No oenology lab, no research centers. Only the winemaker himself held the key to “Le Grand Vin.” When scientific knowledge and technology are limited, our senses of observation, intuition, and sensitivity, all of which make up our subjective thought process, are heightened.

In the old days the wine producer had few resources with which to defend himself against nature. He had to figure out how to come to terms with her.

 

If I were to read something like that, I would want to taste the man’s wine to see where such thoughtfulness led him. And I did. And now you can, too. “Wines that surprise and move us,” as he says. This shipment marks the beginning of our collaboration with André Ostertag. You won’t be bored. –Kermit Lynch

[From the March 1996 Newsletter]

 

Try the 2015 Pinot Noir “E” >> from Domaine Ostertag, featured in our September 2017 newsletter.

Exploring Sardinia

by Kermit Lynch

Last November with Gail and Anthony, I visited Sardinia for the first time. We landed in Cagliari in the south. So should you. If you are anything like me, you’ll enjoy the pace, the ambience, the quality of life. There are no tourist attractions like the Louvre or the Tour Eiffel, so, no mobs to endure, none of the trash that tourism brings to most of the world’s beautiful sites. It all seemed so civilized—the architecture, the arcades, the boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants. It is an addition to my short list of Places to Retire.

We didn’t discover any great wines near Cagliari, but at the wine bars we tasted several interesting bottles and added more names to our list of domaines to visit.

Next I remember tasting late one evening up in the mountains at about 3,000 feet altitude, searching for the Agriturismo where we were to eat and sleep. It was after ten, dark as could be, and no one around to receive us. Nobody answered the door. Nor the phone. I cussed out loud, which worked. A car drove up. “Buona sera!” Lights, camera, action. A platter of homemade salamis and prosciutto appeared with a pitcher of inky rotgut. Anthony quickly went to the car and grabbed some bottles from the trunk so we had something swallowable with our what-turned-out-to-be delicious home-cooked meal.

We also especially liked Alghero in the northwest—on the Med, population about 45,000, lovely beaches all over the place, and, of all things, a Catalan influence in the oldest part of the town. It turns out the Catalans invaded in the mid-fourteenth century, and their presence is still manifest.

After all is said and done, after all the wines were tasted and spat, we were surprised and excited by some of the wines we encountered in Sardinia. Sardinian wines I’d previously tasted in the United States had led me to believe we’d find some good, inexpensive, fresh-tasting island wines. Summertime wines.
But no, we encountered incredible diversity and certain terroirs capable of producing remarkable wines—for example, Mamoiada in the mountains for Cannonau (aka Grenache), and Gallura for Vermentino. The three domaines we decided to import for you are distinctive from anything you’ve tasted elsewhere because of the terroir, history, an isolation factor, plus the individual touch of our growers. Your palate is going to find it possesses taste buds it didn’t know even existed.

From the September 2017 Newsletter >
Shop our collection of
newly arrived Sardinian wines >

From the archives… Clues for the Future, When Our Present is Past

by Kermit Lynch

Nature Magazine reports that archaeologists recently found ancient pottery containing wine residue, which proves that our ancestors were enjoying wine as early as 5400 B.C.

In one report a scientist is quoted as saying of this discovery, “It’s possible this will be the earliest that will ever be found.” Wait a minute. Doesn’t it seem just as reasonable to say that this will not be the earliest ever found?

And what if wine predates mankind? It could. Imagine a wild vine with clusters of ripe grapes, and along comes Stegosaurus, who crushes them underfoot. The grape juice collects in a fissure in the rock, wild yeasts attack, and for a short time (before it turns to vinegar) wine exists.

“Earliest that will ever be found…” Bah, humbug. They call that science? I want my money back.

On a less grumpy note, one startling aspect of the discovery was the lack of a government health warning on the pottery containing the residue. After at least 7,400 years of wine drinking, it was our own relatively freely elected government that first required health warnings on a container of fermented grape juice. About time, right? Thank you, D.C. And to be objective, throughout history (excepting our current generation) everybody who consumed wine died, providing to some (like the scientist quoted above?) the plausibility of our government’s requirements.

However, it must be said in wine’s defense that despite drinking it, mankind itself is still alive, and probably enjoyed a giggle or two along the way.

Now, to return to one of my favorite themes, I would like to point out that what the archeologists found was residue. Sediment. In other words, if that wine had been filtered, we would not know that wine existed 7,400 years ago. We owe it to future generations to leave our own traces, our own little purple deposits, in order to ensure employment for future archeologists. Just one more reason for reasonable people everywhere to keep shopping at KLWM.

[From the August 1996 Newsletter]

From the Archives… Now I’ve Heard Everything

by Kermit Lynch

Someone showed me an article that says, “Alice Waters credits Lynch with influencing her cooking.” Oh yes. That must have been my special Charred Pork recipe. I might as well give it to you straight, because Alice has never forgotten it, and she mentions it to me usually in public at least once a year. I can just hear her introducing me to somebody like Julia Child, for example, saying, “And this is Kermit Lynch, the wine importer. Once he invited me over for dinner and…”

Charred Pork

Season ecologically correct pork filet. Place filet on grill over red-hot coals. Start gabbing with Alice about food and wine scene. Get carried away. Smell burning pork flesh. Run. Remove flaming filet from grill. Look in fridge for something to eat.

No, really, it is true that I have now and then prepared meals that Alice has eaten, somewhat, but influenced her cooking? I am flattered, however, and will now probably make the history books. Unless… unless it was my:

Sliced Homegrown Tomatoes

Slice homegrown tomatoes into slices. (By no means shall you slice them into quarters.) Allow ground salt and pepper to descend by gravity flow onto each slice. Serve immediately.

I don’t know. I’m sure Alice’s future biographer can safely say that she influenced my cooking more than I did hers.

But now you see perhaps the difference in personality between me and Alice. She seems driven to revisit my Charred Pork, but I would never, ever reveal the recipe for her Fish Soup on the Floor.

 

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]