Is wine a work of art? The Minimus 2017 Pinot Gris from Oregon was one of the most artful wines I’ve ever tasted

Please join me tonight (Friday, Nov. 16) at Sud Italia on University Blvd. in Houston (Google map) for an evening of great Italian wine and conversation. I’ll be pouring wine for guests all evening.

The greatest works of art and literature are those which are conscious of being works of art and literature, texts that are self-aware of being texts, so to speak.

Without diving headfirst and recklessly into a discussion of “experiential” versus “experimental” poetics, suffice it to say that there are two types of “art” in the [post-]post-modern world: those which merely entertain us and those which expand their genre by forging new ground, as they entertain us all the while.

This dichotomy can be traced back to antiquity, of course. But in modern times, the “art vs. entertainment” dialectic was best summed up by Umberto Eco in his (in)famous 1985 essay “‘Casablanca’: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage.”

“According to traditional standards in aesthetics,” he wrote, “‘Casablanca’ is not a work of art… [I]f the films of Dreyer, Eisenstein, or Antonioni are works of art, ‘Casablanca’ represents a very modest aesthetic achievement.”

A lot of Casablanca fans will be surprised to hear that. But as Eco illustrates (and despite being a diehard ‘Casablanca’ fan, I agree with him), Casablanca is a great film but it’s not a work of art. In other words, it’s not a film that’s conscious of being a film. It’s just a great film.

Late-night graduate-days debates over the intersection and divergence in art and entertainment — fueled by pungent cigarettes and acrid coffee — came to mind as we drank the Minimus 2017 Pinot Gris from Oregon the other night.

Where so many skin-contact and natural-intentioned wines can tend to be monochromatic in their aromas and flavors, this wine delivered gorgeous varietal expressiveness, with brilliant fruit (ripe peach and apricot), elegant acidity, and artful weight, body, and texture. In a word, I loved it.

But I was also struck by the fact that, like many of the Craft Wine Co. wines, it’s a one-off, one of the many bottlings they do just once — when the confluence of growing conditions and availability of fruit gave the winemaker the unique opportunity to make. No, there won’t be a 2018 bottling and that’s simply because the winemaker has already moved on to his next aesthetic adventure (well, honestly, I don’t know that for sure but it’s my understanding that each of their wines is intended to be an entirely singular viticultural expression, a sui generis bottling).

The packaging and meticulously compiled metatext (see the image above) also struck me as remarkable and remarkably thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Like a text that’s left the hands of its author and has gone on to become its own living and breathing objet d’art, this wine seemed to have a life that came into being only after the moment of its issuance. At the risk of sounding unintentionally macabre, I’ll borrow Barthes’ equally infamous declaration that “the author winemaker is dead…” In other words, this wine, so mindful and self-aware of being a wine, had taken on a life of its own once it left the confines of the cellar where it was born and found its way to me in Houston.

(For the record, the man who made this wine is alive and well; meaning here is figurative, of course, not literal.)

Is winemaking an intellectual pursuit? I believe that no, it’s not. Is it an aesthetic expression of its winemaker? I believe it is… but not when she/he seals the wine with a cork or screw cap. It becomes poetical the moment a wine lover pulls that cork or twists that screw cap.

And the other night, the Minimus 2017 Pinot Gris was pure poetry…

Buon weekend, everyone! Have a great weekend and drink something delicious!

Native Grapes of Italy author Ian D’Agata coming to Houston next month…

Del Posto group (NYC) buyer and Italian wine guru Jeff Porter shared the following press release with me yesterday and I’m happy to repost it here: Ian is THE LEADING English-language authority on Italian ampelography. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Ian next month to Houston! (Image: Barbera grapes as depicted by 19th-century Italian botanist Giorgio Gallesio [Flickr creative commons].)

Indegina World Tour
Ian D’Agata
Houston, Texas
December 11 & 12, 2018

Please come experience one of the greatest speakers on Italian wine in the world: Mr. Ian D’Agata. Ian is one of the world’s foremost experts on native grapes of Italy and his most recent book Native Grapes of Italy has become a defacto tome for wine lovers across the globe. In addition to being an author Ian has established the Indegina Center for Food & Wine studies in Barolo, Piemonte. Indegina has been created to teach and explore the world’s native foodstuffs and wine grapes from all angles: science, economics, history, culinary and sociologically.
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Taste with me this Friday in Houston at Sud Italia (and Houston-centric Thanksgiving wine recommendations)…

Please join me this Friday evening at Sud Italia on University Blvd. in Houston (Google map) for an evening of great Italian wine and conversation.

I’ll be pouring bottles from the restaurant’s all-Italian list and I’ll be visiting with guests who want to chat about wine and Italy.

Working as a sommelier on the floor of a great restaurant is one of my favorite things to do and I hope you’ll stop by for a glass of Verdicchio or Sangiovese!

In other news…

Check out my (Houston-centric) recommendations for what wine to drink for Thanksgiving, my post today for the Houston Press, “Wines for a Purple State Thanksgiving.”

You might be surprised by what I wrote. Please check it out.

What will be drinking at our Thanksgiving in Orange, Texas next week? The “wine of freedom”!

Thanks for your solidarity and support, everyone. It really means the world to Tracie and me. Please join me on Friday if you can. It will be a super fun evening for sure.

Prayers for our sisters and brothers affected by California wildfires

Our thoughts and prayers go out this morning to our sisters and brothers affected by California wildfires.

The photo above was taken in early September of this year in Oregon House, California (Yorba County), about an hour’s drive south of the town of Paradise, which has been all but leveled by the natural disaster.

It gives you a sense of how much fuel — dry brush — the fires have to feed on.

Check out this terrifying photo posted by my friend Melanie K on Instagram from Santa Monica. Apocalyptic is the first word that comes to mind.

The fires were never this bad or this frequent when I was a kid growing up in California. This year’s fires are already on track to be the state’s deadliest and most devastating ever.

Our hearts are heavy this morning as we pray for the victims and their families. G-d bless them all.

VIDEO (EXPLICIT): “Jesus f*%@ing hates you!” The Face of Racism in Orange, Texas

Tracie shot the video above as we protested the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas yesterday. The man ranting at us was one of just a handful of people who expressed their disapproval of our protest. The overwhelming number of passersby gave us the thumbs up or stopped to share a kind word.

But the Confederate memorial supporter who threatened us is indicative of the people who oppose our efforts.

The video speaks for itself.
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A Jew in America…

As the cloudy sky looked on, the sheriff’s patrol car that idled outside Congregation Bonai Shalom (in Boulder, Colorado) politely moved to allow me to take the last parking spot in the lot outside the synagogue.

Three 30-something congregants greeted me warmly as I approached the temple entrance.

“I’m from out of town,” I said.

“Oh, where from?” one asked me smiling broadly.

“From Texas,” I said, “Houston. May I join you today? I’m on the road for work and there’s no way that I’m not going to shul today.”

“Of course,” they answered heartily and nearly in unison.

By the time services were in full swing, the sanctuary was packed. And the young rabbi didn’t shy from noting what an emotional time it was for all of us. Only a week had passed since the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Tears welled, it seemed, in everyone’s eyes, including mine.
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My first (and last?) taste of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

Of all of the events at the Boulder Burgundy Festival (now in its eighth year, my fifth as official blogger), there is no more spirited gathering than the “Paulée-Inspired Lunch.”

For those not familiar with the term paulée, it’s an annual party thrown in Burgundy to celebrate the end of harvest (paulée means literally a panful or the amount a pan holds, a reference to the early years of the outdoor celebration when attendees made single-pan meals). The Burgundian paulée was also inspiration for the New York and San Francisco wine festivals known as La Paulée.

Every year, on the Saturday of the Boulder festival, top Burgundy collectors bring prized bottles from their cellars to share liberally with other guests. It always makes for an extraordinary luncheon, this year hosted at Boulder’s excellent francophile Mateo where the kitchen turned out classic French country dishes including escargots, coq au vin, and the boeuf bourguignon in the photo above (the food was fantastic).

Yesterday’s meal happened to find me seated with a high-profile distributor who sells, among other fine wines, the highly coveted Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. And as it so happened, one of the guests (a very generous collector) sent over a glass of 2001 Échezeaux Grand Cru by the storied estate.

As we shared the wine (a small taste for each of us at the table), the conversation turned to the exorbitant cost of these wines and how they are allocated throughout the world.

According to WineSearcher.com, the current release price for this wine is around $1,650 per bottle (yes, per bottle). And the market price for the 2001 is around $2,300 per bottle.

But even these sums pale when compared with the current release price for the domaine’s top wine, the Romanée-Conti Grand Cru, which retails today in the U.S. for roughly $17,000 per bottle. (To wrap your mind around these astronomical prices for 750ml of wine, see this Barron’s article.)

One of the neatest things about my career arc is that so many Italian collectors enjoy sharing their wines with me. And over the last five years, my work with the Boulder Wine Merchant and the Boulder Burgundy Festival has given me the opportunity to taste some extraordinary French wines otherwise above my pay grade and beyond my reach.

But I had never touched my lips to the holy grail of fine wine, D-R-C as it is known in the trade by its initials.

It was an emotionally charged moment, I have to admit. And the wine, however youthful 17 years since it was harvested, was utterly and thoroughly delicious. With rich fruit, elegantly balanced acidity, and fine texture and weight, it really delivered greatness and wholly lived up to its name.

Will I taste it — let alone drink it — ever again? Probably not. And that’s okay by me. It’s kinda like the old bit about the rabbi who enjoys a bite of a ham sandwich but then notes that he can live without it (that’s not really how the joke goes but you get the drift).

I would have been happy with the fat glass of 1997 Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (one of my favorite appellations of all time), poured for me by a friend at yesterday’s event. It came from her father’s cellar and still had the price tag affixed: $125 per bottle, presumably purchased in the early 2000s before Burgundy’s prices began to skyrocket.

All in all, it’s been one of the best festivals of my run and I feel truly blessed to be a part of it.

Heartfelt thanks goes out to festival founder and organizer Brett Zimmmerman, who invited me up here for the first time five years ago, and to all the amazing sommeliers who have poured me truly unforgettable wines.

It’s always a wonderful gathering, attended by some of the best and brightest in our community, and I can’t recommend it enough to you.

Now I’m off to the last three events: Chablis brunch, Gevrey-Chambertin seminar with Pierre Rovani and Kelli White (both super cool wine writers), and grand tasting. Nice work if you can get it (as the song goes).

The oldest wine I ever drank was delicious last night: 1934 Henri de Villamont Chambolle-Musigny Charmes

Thanks to everyone who contributed to our Go Fund Me campaign, part of our protest of the newly erected Confederate Memorial in Orange, Texas. It only took us two days to meet our goal of $1,000. Thank you! It means the world to us to know that you support us in our efforts!

It was just the week before last that someone shared three “older than me” wines in New York. The oldest was from 1957.

Last night found me in Boulder, Colorado where wines going back to the 1930s were poured at the opening event at the Boulder Burgundy Festival, now in its eighth year.

The top wine of the night was the 1934 Henri de Villamont Cambolle-Musigny Charmes from Henri de Villamont. No one, including the three Master Sommeliers who were among those pouring, expected this wine to be so fresh and vibrant, with acidity and popping fruit flavor (black cherry and wild berry). Usually when you open wines like this, you expect to find at least some oxidation, muted or fading fruit, and hopefully a trace of the acidity of its youth.

This wine really surprised and wowed everyone last night.

It was the oldest wine I’ve ever tasted (nearly as old as my parents) and it was utterly delicious.

Note the importer’s imprint on the label: this wine came through the port of Houston, probably in the late 1930s. Just think how the world was different then!

Note also how the wine is annotated as “Red Bordeaux Wine” (thanks to Stephen S., who lives in Bordeaux, for pointing that out).

There was also a remarkable flight of Camille Giroud stretching back to the 1950s, 40s, and 30s, including a 1947 Richebourg (another stand out for me).

Here’s my write-up Today for the festival’s blog (where I’ve been posting for the last five years).

Between two kids to clothe and feed, two music programs to support, and two ballet classes to pay for (not to mention a rescue dog with heart worms and a fondness for scrambled eggs), Tracie and I have had a really tight year moneywise. But we are sure blessed to drink so well! It was an incredible night.

I’ll be posting about the festival here as well. Please tag along. Thanks for being here and sharing these experiences with me.

Help us protest the new Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas: GoFundMe goal of $1,000 to purchase billboard ad

Update, Friday, November 2: Thanks to everyone who contributed to our Go Fund Me campaign, part of our protest of the newly erected Confederate Memorial in Orange, Texas. It only took us two days to meet our goal of $1,000. Thank you! It means the world to us to know that you support us in our efforts!

Please donate to our campaign here.

The next protest is scheduled for Saturday, November 10, 2-4 p.m. Click here for details. Please join us.

Tracie and I are raising money to buy one (1) month of advertising on a billboard that stands across the road from the newly erected Confederate Memorial of the Wind, a monument built by the Sons of Confederate Veterans on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. in Orange, Texas along Interstate 10.
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After Pittsburgh…

My parents were both born in 1933 in South Bend, Indiana. They were the children of Jewish refugees who had fled Eastern Europe in the first decade of the last century, before the Russian Revolution. Both were raised as conservative Jews. After they finished college in their home state, they moved to Chicago, Illinois where they reared their four sons as conservative, progressive Jews. Although not observant at home, they regularly attended a typical midwest conservative synagogue, not unlike the typical midwest shul in Pittsburgh where a mass shooting occurred on Saturday.

A work trip took me to Pittsburgh a month ago. On a beautiful Saturday morning, the city’s “strip” — its main drag just off of downtown — was bustling with Steelers fans and food lovers. People were friendly there, the nightlife was welcoming and fun, and the city’s now abandoned factories were oddly and boldly beautiful set against the natural majesty of its rivers and hills. Folks were lined up around the block at the Heinz History Center, a Smithsonian outpost, for a new space exploration exhibit. Time didn’t permit a visit to the Anyd Warhol museum.

It’s hard to believe that the City of Bridges, as it’s known, would also be home to such virulent racism. But it is. And sadly, it’s no different than anywhere else in America.

When I see the photos of those who died in Saturday’s attack, I see faces that I recognize from my own upbringing. I see faces that I recognize from our neighborhood bagel shop and the Jewish Community Center a few blocks from our house (where our daughters often attend birthday parties). I see the congregants of the orthodox shul next to my gym. I see my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, my grandparents… I see myself and I see our children.

Even in my wildest imagination, I never thought that a day like this would arrive in America. But it has.

Today I weep for my fallen sisters and brothers, their families, their community. Today I weep for my country.