Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Insight to old world wine

For this month’s post, I’m changing it up. I’m giving up the Winologist platform to my buddy Mick. About a year ago, Mick’s wife informed him they were moving to England for awhile so the kids could experience school in another country. This did surprise him somewhat because it was not anywhere on the family calendar. He knew his wife would handle most of the logistics but it was his job to figure out how to get enough California Cabernet (his wine of choice) shipped over to last at least 6 months. After weeks of research, he found it more economical to explore the wines of the old world and see if he could find a reasonable substitute. Below is an excerpt of his journey along with some questions from the Winologist. I know I could never replicate what he did, but I would really like to try someday. Enjoy-

“We’re moving to England,” replays in my head as I walk along a narrow English road probably constructed by Romans, I surmise. I walk by a small wine shop and stop. As I enter through an old door I think of the late Robert Mondavi and his obsession with recreating the great Cabernet grapes of France. Would I find Bordeaux here in England? I digress. An hour drive from my home in California sits Napa Valley. It was 1976 when Napa Valley wines stole home and beat the legendary French wines such as Château Mouton-Rothschild in an international blind wine tasting notoriously called, “Judgment of Paris.” My love affair with California Cabernet led me to reading about the late Robert Mondavi and his quest to capture the spirit and taste of the legendary Cabernet grapes of Bordeaux. I'm in England and I'm on a quest for the mythological Bordeaux.
Slowly perusing ancient mahogany shelves I read labels from Italy and Spain. “France” hung over me in bright red letters. I kid you not; my hand shook as I reached for a bottle of Bordeaux. As I hold a Château Labat, Haut-Medoc, I hear a voice behind me. “You got a fine wine there mate!” My new friend proceeds to offer up a quick education as to the various Bordeaux appellations. “Medoc is a good wine growing region,” boasts Carl. Loyalty took hold my tongue, “Not better than Napa!” He smiles and responds with convivial English humility, “Perhaps not, Mick.” A friendship is born.
Carl and I set about cracking open one bottle of Bordeaux after another. An American and an Englishman sharing French wine in a small English village. As Carl pulls a cork from an appellation, I can’t pronounce, I walk around the shop glancing at the Italian and Spanish brands. I knew I would be visiting those countries soon enough. California wines are non-existent in the old shop.
Gas-lit streetlights illuminate the narrow path outside the wine shop as Carl and I stand at the tiny tasting table. “That’s impossible,” I protest. “How can this wonderful wine cost so little?” I grab another bottle and glance down at the price. A quick conversion from dollar to pound brings a red-tinged smile and I place an immediate three case order of this incredible Bordeaux. As I carry my cache out the door I stop and turn back to Carl, “Not better than Napa.” Carl turns off the light to the small wine shop. In the darkness I hear, “Probably not, Mick.”

Winologist- How difficult was it to find your usual Napa Cab favorites? How much more was the price?
Mick- The U.K. and European countries we visited do not offer a diverse menu of California wines. I’m sure price has something to do with it but there seems to be a general lack of interest in California wine. When it comes to wine, there’s a sense of regional loyalty. For example, we stayed at a hotel in Sorrento on the southern Italian coast and most of the wines from the menu were from locally owned wineries. Generations of Italian families have enjoyed local wines. They have no desire to venture beyond. Italy reminds me of our Sierra Foothill wine region. Smaller wineries and rugged conditions make for sensational zesty wines.
Winologist- How did you educate yourself on what wines to buy? Was there a certain person or place you went to for the knowledge?
Mick-I’ll buy wine for an education. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet villagers knowledgeable about his or her local wines. For example, I met the general manager of a small family hotel operation based along the Amalfi Coast. He looked like Don Tommasino from the Godfather. He had a massive pinky ring! And he knew his local wines. One night we sat and drank wines from an area outside of Sorrento where he grew up. He told me great stories about his childhood and the wines from his region. Wine is funny. The more you know about the story behind a particular wine the better it tastes.
Winologist- I would guess most of the wine purchased was from France-Was there a particular region you preferred?
Mick- The French wine regions are as diverse as any on earth. The best place to drink French wine is Paris. In a typical evening I’d pick off two or three regions ordering from the hotel’s Sommelier. For example, I’d choose wines grown in Medoc, Saint-Emillion and St-Estèphe and get schooled by the Sommelier for free. I learned more at the hotel bar than if I had taken a wine tour through France. As for a favorite region I rolled like Patton through Medoc all the way into the mountains of Langeudoc. I'm proud to say there is no more Bordeaux.
Winologist-Any Italian or Spanish wines tried? If so can you offer a brief comment?
Mick-We were in a hotel on a cliff overlooking the Sorrentine Peninsula. We had just returned from a long day exploring the ruins at Pompeii. We were poolside and I was too tired to care what kind of wine they had on the menu. I asked for the house red and upon first taste nearly fell out of my chair. Spices, pepper and an explosion of vibrant tones erupted from my pallet. The Italian wines have become my new passion. In fact, I’ve made arrangements for an Italian tasting with our local wine merchant later this year.
Winologist- Were you able to visit any wine regions during your stay?
Mick- Exploring wine regions with kids is not an option. But if you’re in need of a tour guide to Windsor Castle, I’m your man.
Winologist- Describe one major difference in the wines from Europe and the wines you are used to in the US-
Mick-Well, since 90 percent of US wine sales originate from California I’ll speak for the “Left” Coast.” Sometimes I think California wines are made for the sole purpose of getting you drunk and with the recent spike in wine prices, there are certainly cheaper ways to get drunk. How many times have you cracked open and expensive “Cali Cab” and after two glasses you’re lit like July 4th? Between exorbitant prices and alcohol content quite a few friends have stopped drinking those wines. European wines tend to possess less alcohol with more emphasis on flavor. Perhaps I'm just old but I'll sacrifice hallucinations for taste any day.
Winologist - Did you stick to Reds while away or did you allow yourself to sample whites or champagne as well?
Mick-Wine comes in white? I’m glad you mention champagne. In England champagne is consumed more than water. When socializing I found that Brits enjoy champagne over any other drink of choice. As star-struck as we were to see an actual bottle of champagne on the table it’s taken for granted in the U.K.
Winologist- Can you suggest a few wines that could be purchased in the States at a reasonable price point?
Mick-From my experience it’s extremely difficult to find European wines here in California. It’s not difficult to join an online merchant like Laithwaites. Headquartered in the U.K (www.laithwaites.co.uk) Laithwaites offers customers worldwide a sensational variety of European wines for surprisingly competitive prices. For example, the Bordeaux called Chateau Labat I mentioned earlier is sold online at Laithwaites. At Laithwaites Chateau Labat is listed at roughly $30. I would expect to pay $50 to $75 for a comparable California Merlot. Italian wines are less. Furthermore, Laithwaites separates their wines by country. The website is simple to peruse. Also, Laithwaites has a wine club which sends four new wines a month to members.
Winologist-How about a wine that could be used for a special occasion?
Mick-I’m the Billy Bean of wine. Value is of equal importance to flavor and I’m constantly trying to squeeze out the best flavor for the buck. But sometimes you just got to pull out the credit card. One night we found ourselves at a little pub that had a Michelin two star rating. I noticed the name Rothschild. I bit the bullet and ordered a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild. I don’t remember the year but it doesn’t matter. To my wife’s horror I broke the bottle in half so I could lick out the inside. Alright, that didn’t happen but it could have. I could have easily sold everything I own for another bottle.
Winologist-If a reader were to travel to the UK or other parts of Europe, what is the one piece of advice you would offer when purchasing?
Mick-You will not see Europe on five dollars a day. Those days are over. However, unlike the U.S., the European independent wine shop owner is alive and well. When you find a small wine shop walk inside and ingratiate yourself. Shake hands, smile and ask lots of questions. I remember a little wine shop in Eton, across the Thames River from Windsor. Literally there was only enough room in the shop for the two of us. The proprietor had wine stacked to the ceiling. Within minutes a cork was pulled. We sat across an old wine barrel and told stories, showed photos of kids and listened to an old Elvis Costello CD. I walked out of that little shop with a mixed case of wine.
In Italy and Spain wine is way of life. (Don’t be surprised if the wine doesn’t have a label – it just means you are drinking the good stuff.) Literally, time stops. A patriarch pops the cork and pours with great pride. There’s no start or finish. Food is served. As the wine pours the locals will hug you, hug your wife and hug your children. You become part of a wonderful cosmic family. One night in Marbella, Spain we enjoyed a night watching Flamenco dancers and drinking wine. We adjourned outside to a small town square. In most small towns or villages the town square is usually the central gathering spot. Before long our youngest was dancing around a fountain with one of the Flamenco dancers. A grandfatherly-type sat with the kids and told stories while we shared wine with the locals. I swear I was stuck in a chapter of a Hemingway novel. A personal quest brought more than good wine to our table; it brought a lifetime of friendships and memories that cannot be replaced. I went there with an open heart, open mind and an open wallet. In the end we lived a story worth telling. I wish it for all of my friends. Go, see and enjoy!

Winologist-Thanks for the insight Mick.

Until next time..

No comments:

Post a Comment