Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I learned this year...

I was talking to a friend recently and he mentioned all the seasonal "Ten Best" and "Best of" lists that were coming out, many of them purporting to give the listmaker's version of a) their favorite wines, supposedly in order of magnitude of favorite-ness, or b) a list of what their readers should seek out and buy.

So, inevitably, it happened. He asked, "What's your Ten Best?"

Don't have one, I said. Not into ordination, especially of wines.

"Well, how about a list of ten wines I should definitely buy?"

Couldn't possibly do that, I said. Besides, it's better if you find them yourself, rather than wait for me to give you a list.

"Well, so much for all the
wine knowledge you have," he huffed. "What advice can you give?"

As the pedant in me started to sonorously explain that I really didn't see any value in lists, that ordination of wine was not, to me even possible, that what he wanted was a 'greatest hits', and that I didn't do numerical scores or rankings or yadda yadda yadda, I did something totally out of character for me: I shut my big fat mouth.

It wasn't what he wanted to hear.

So, after I moment, I said I'd give him what he wanted---but not the way he wanted, and not right then, because his question deserved a thorough and considered answer. I would reply, not with a list or ranking or shopping guide, but with what I managed to learn---or in some cases, relearn, over the past year.

So herein is my answer (in segments, because I'm naturally long-winded, sorry, but there it is).

First, Provence:
I had the greatest fortune and most excellent timing when my early retirement from corporate life coincided with an invitation I could not have previously honored! I was invited to participate in the French Wine Academy Study Abroad program to pursue Master Level Instructor status through the Academy. This enabled me to spend a couple of glorious weeks in French wine regions, learning more about some of the best wines in the world.

An artist's rendition of the essence of Rose' in sculpture.

Sometimes, with wine, you find out it's not what you know that's important; it's what you knew but forgot and had to learn all over again. That was Provence for me.

I had learned it so long ago, and had travelled it so long ago, and then gone back numerous times without paying attention to what I knew, and to what was changing, and to how I was changing as well. I had forgotten the most important thing about Provence and its wine. My knowledge now was only academic, and worse, outdated...the one unforgivable thing about wine knowledge.

So my summer in Provence was a re-awakening, a resurgence of learning and appreciating. And each and every moment was a revelation. Provence tends to be that way.

America, despite being one of the strongest wine markets in the world and the desired target for any producer anywhere---the French being no exception---is still abysmally ignorant of wine, and the majority of American wine taste leans toward the big, the bold, the clearly stated (or overstated?). Subtlety, complexity, and fine nuance are not always as appreciated by American wine drinkers as they should be---which is curious to the extreme because the essence of French wines lies much more in subtlety and nuance than in bravado and forcefulness.

The most perfect case in point of this is in Provence. For some time the region has languished in virtual insignificance in the American market. Too hot to be a fine wine region, sniffed some.
Very disorganized, and they choose to focus on something as seasonal and bland as rose', said others. Lovely country, yes; superb for vacations and rustic countrysides, certainly. But for "serious" wine, look to other regions.


Instead, Provence is a thriving, lively, dynamic, wine scene these days. The growers and winemakers are as committed as any I know anywhere, and the sheer volume of producers, coupled with the outstanding overall quality of wines, is amazing.

And it is no accident, no whim, no lack of quality, that leads many Provencal wineries to focus on rose'. And focus they do: they are fiercely devoted to this style and approach, and have invested countless hours and euros studying what makes rose' the wine it is, and what makes a good rose'.

(True wine aficionados---wine geeks---should investigate the unique Centre Provencal de Recherche et d'Experimentation sur le Vin Rose'--Official Rose' Research Center in Provence, or go to the Wines of Provence website---www.winesof for some truly fascinating information on this topic.)

It's time Americans got off this hobby horse of 'big is better; bigger is best'. There is nothing finer than a meal of varied tastes, flavors and textures served with a subtle, elusive, multifaceted, crisp and fruity Provence Rose'! Let's have done with the idea that Rose' is a summer wine only; it isn't. Let's dispense with the outdated idea that rose' is bland and featureless and indiscriminate, simply a jumble of things that make a light pink sweet whatever wine----that may be so in other places, but it is not so in Provence.

The Recherche of Rose'

So among the things I've learned this year, one of the most valuable for me was the rediscovery of Provence and its particular delight, Rose'. There's not another wine I know of that runs the full gamut of satisfaction for me. It can be a 'white wine' when that's what I need; it can be a red wine when that's what is called for. And it can be endlessly pleasing on multiple levels with its subtlety and complexity, its delightful razor-edged crisp acidity and tart, mouthwatering effusion of delicate flavors.

And did I mention how lovely the prices are? How nice to find a wine that can be so pleasant and so affordably priced!

A Regular Morning of Exhaustive
Investigative Research at the Institute!

So go out now, and ask your friendly local wine merchant for a Provencal Rose'. It's not just for summer sipping anymore.

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