You can take foxes outta the country but…

From the “just for fun” department…

Johnny OtisLife’s been a little stressful lately and there’s so much negativity going around right now in the world of wine that I thought it was time for some “just for fun.”

It had been a while since Tracie B and me popped any Movia. So Sunday night, we invited our friend and fellow natural wine freak Josh Loving over for Tracie B’s famous fried chicken and mashed potatoes and a bottle of Puro, which Josh — the consummate wine professional — ably disgorged (check out the video I shot below).

Dinner was served accompanied by one of my favorite records: Cold Shot! by the Johnny Otis Show. I love every track on that disk and “The Signifyin’ Monkey” is probably the most famous. But my favorite favorite track is “Country Girl.” Toward the end of the song, Johnny Otis doubles the following aphoristic chiasmus with his guitar: You can take foxes outta the country, but you can’t get the country outta foxes. It’s one of the mysteries of life but that line just kills me every time. Check it out, as Josh disgorges the wine:

You’ve probably seen Puro disgorged at Do Bianchi before but in case you haven’t, it’s really easy to do (as in the vid above). Winemaker Aleš Kristančič makes the wine using the méthode champenoise but he leaves the lees and sediment in the wine (i.e., he doesn’t disgorge before release). You store the wine upside down in your fridge (using a cardboard cylinder that comes with the wine) and then you disgorge it upside down in a basin of water. The wine will be totally clear (as in the photo below).

Although Bollinger remains the indisputable official wine of my band Nous Non Plus, we have been known to disgorge a bottle of Puro… or two.

Life could be worse…

In other news…

Today, “the absolutely fabulous Alice Feiring,” as Tracie B likes to call her, is up to bat at 31 Days of Natural Wine. Alice is a dear friend, a great lady, a mentor, and one of the few things — besides Katz’s pastrami and Barney Greengrass whitefish salad — that we miss about New York City. I love the wine she talks about and I can confirm what Cory writes in his intro, that “very Alice Feiring” has become a canonical wine descriptor. How cool is that?

Slovenia Day 1: Movia (my barrique epiphany)

Just added…

Taste and chat at Jaynes: Thursday I’ll be pouring wine all night at Jaynes Gastropub in University Hts. (San Diego). Please stop by. Hopefully Chef Daniel will be serving his Alaskan halibut special…

Above: Aleš Kristančič draws off a barrel sample of his 2005 Pinot Noir. Note the size of the barrels. Aleš ages his wine exclusively in barrique.

My once immovable feelings about barrique (small, new oak barrels — French or Slavonian — used for aging wine) began to change last year when I read this article by Eric Asimov. With Socratic nuance, Eric pointed out that “Oaky may be bad, but oak is good.” Later that month, in response to a post I did on Luigi Veronelli and Italy’s historic relationship to new oak aging of wine, Eric authored a post in which he cast the use of barrique in judicious perspective. (If the wine blogosphere were a Renaissance court, Eric would be its wise and just prince: he brings an even-handed tone to a world prone to rants and extreme points of view. He was recently nominated for the Veronelli Prize for “best food and wine writing in a foreign language.”)

When my band Nous Non Plus arrived at the Movia winery in Brda, Slovenia on Monday, April 7, 2008, where we played a private party that evening, I had an epiphany of sorts: I discovered — to my surprise — that my friend Aleš Kristančič, whose wines I love and have enjoyed on many occasions, ages all of his wines in barrique.

Frankly, I was blown away. My friend and collaborator Franco Ziliani (known for his tell-like-it-is style) often points out that rules are rules: I have to confess that I had never detected oakyness in Aleš’ wines and Aleš gave me a proper schooling in situ as to how new oak can be used with the context of radically natural and undeniably biodynamic wines like his own. Ignoscetis mihi: as Franco says, if you taste something blind and you like it, you have to admit it.

Above: Aleš rocks out with his Soviet-era Tajfun bass (see headstock below). He played bass in the Yugoslav military band. Aleš became a fan of Nous Non Plus after he saw our Mobitel commercial and he invited the band to play a gig at his winery and later that week in Ljubljana.

“Oak is like the sheets of a bed,” said Aleš using a politically incorrect but apt simile, “when you break up with a girlfriend, you need to throw away the sheets and put new ones on the bed.” In his view, the yeasts and bacteria that grow on old oak barrels (and in particular, large oak barrels) can give unwanted flavors to the wine (other winemakers would argue that those flavors are elements in terroir expression).

One important element is the toasting of the oak. Aleš uses only gently toasted oak: “the staves are toasted by the cooper to shape the barrel,” he said, “not to give flavor to the wine.” (Many modern-style winemakers use heavily toasted oak to impart vanilla, chocolate, and tobacco and similar notes to their wines.)

But, most important, he explained, is the amount of time the wine spends in cask. “Many winemakers want to accelerate the aging process by using new oak for aging,” he said. “I’m not using the oak to soften the tannin. I am using it to oxygenate the wine slowly and gently.” (The pores in the new wood allow small amounts of oxygen to come into contact with the wine.) Where other producers age for 12 or even 18 months, Aleš often ages for up to 5 years in cask before bottling.

The other important element, he told me, is that he adds no sulfur whatsoever to his wine. “Even fine winemakers add very small amounts of sulfur in order to stabilize the wine more quickly. I don’t need to do that: I let time stabilize my wines. I’m not in a hurry,” Aleš said. The addition of sulfur, he explained, can cause the oak to impart some of its flavor to the wine.

Alder Yarrow just did a great post on Slovenia and Movia’s current releases over at his excellent blog Vinography.

I’ll be posting more on my stay and our shows in Slovenia and the wines we tasted and food we ate over the next few weeks. Look for my post on Movia’s Lunar: during my stay, Aleš revealed the secret of this 100% Ribolla Gialla that he makes from the free-run juice of whole bunches. He essentially fills a barrel with the grapes — stems and all — and lets the wine make itself. But there’s a trick to it: Aleš learned it all from a grape…

Slovenia is not as as developed as neighboring Friuli and its beauty is literally breath-taking. This shot — believe it or not — was taken from the toilet at the Movia guest house.