I just finished reading Kermit Lynch’s book, “Adventures on the Wine Route.” For those who do not know Lynch, he is an American wine importer par excellence of French wine. He splits his time between Berkley California and Bandol France.
For 10 years Lynch fought the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms that forced him to print labels warning against consuming alcohol without the ability to add information about the health benefits of moderate wine drinking. Believe it or not, he won!
In France he fights EU regulations that are destroying French wine, suburban sprawl that is gobbling up some of France’s best vineyards with cookie cutter MacMannsions, and the ever increasing inaccurate and misleading labels on French wine. For his efforts he has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Order de la Merite Agricole and the insignia of Chavalier de la Legion d’Honor by the French government for his service to the wine industry.
I loved the book, especially the tour that Madame Lucie”Lulu” Peyraud of Domaine Tempier gave him of the city of Marseilles where she grew up. This allowed me to re-live one of the high points of my vacation there last year, as they hit all the same spots. They even talked about “les femmes avec less cuisses violets,” which, when literally translated, means “the women with the purple thighs,” because the prostitutes wear such short skirts in the winter their thighs turn purple! Brings new meaning to “unfiltered” doesn’t it!
It also makes me think about my own wine route. I regret getting on the road so late in life, considering how much joy it has brought me. It also confirms for me how government intervention, no matter how well intended, is destructive and ultimately hurts the producers and the consumers alike. In the end, only the Government wins.
It also makes me wonder if I am even drinking wine. The stories in the book about how laws are changing how people make wine and how different the wines are today than they were 100–hell even 20–years ago. Lynch talks about a place where they have been making wine for 500 years and if you drank a 54 or even a 61 vintage you would be drinking essentially the same wine you would have tasted in 1861 or 1761. But, since 1993 the wine tastes like Welches. Why? Government intervention is telling these wine masters how they HAVE to make wine. That heritage is now lost. What did we gain, and how can we ever get it back?
So, it’s very appropriate to review Domaine Andezon Cotes-Du-Rhone this week. Cotes-du-Rhone in English means Slopes or Hill of the Rhone. The Rhone River in France is one of the most famous wine regions in the country. The Domanie Andezon is a blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache; both varietals are widely grown in the Rhone river valley. I think the thing I like best about this wine is it dosen’t taste French. I find French wines on a whole light, yet with every sip of this wine I was tasting Australia. Think Life Guard not Cyclist. This wine comes from 40+-year-old Syrah vines and 60+-year-old Grenache vines, bottled unfined and unfiltered after being aged in both tank and concrete. It has a dense purple color, with a stunning nose of blackberry. This wine is full-bodied and has great blackberry taste and at just $20 a bottle this is one of the very best bargains in dry red wine that you guys are likely to find anywhere in the world. This is a super wine and should continue to drink well for another 3-4 years. Drink 2011-2015.
What have I learned from reading Adventures on the Wine Route? It’s more confirmation than enlightenment; we as a people are homogenizing ourselves in what I call the Great Gray Borg Collective of Mediocrity. We set out looking for perfection and in our quest for perfection we end up destroying everything by forced assimilation. We have an excel spreadsheet mentality, which is if you can’t put it into a cell it has no value.
Negociants use to go taste the wine, if it was good they’d buy it, if not they’d walk away. Today, they go to the vineyard take a sample of the wine, have it chemically analyzed, if all the blocks on the excel spreadsheet are filled in with blue they buy it, any red they walk away. What we the consumers get is a flat, dead, clean, clear, whatever-you-want-to-call-it drink, but it isn’t wine.
We rely too much on technology and not enough on people. People give value and importance to things you can’t see, can’t measure. The ancients may not have had the technology we have, but they were not dumb; they established traditions based on their experience of what worked best. Those traditions have been replaced with a governmental check list. Maybe quality is on average better, but it’s sterile. At best it’s average because that’s what check lists yield: often acceptable, but rarely unbelievable, wine!
Pessimistic, yeah it’s me, but the wine route is an adventure after all. If your happy with your cookie cutter wine, your adventure is complete, buy it and enjoy. But there is so much more to wine. The last sentence in Lynch’s book goes like this: “Unlike music, literature or visual art, wine doesn’t require a creative genius; a simple farmer working his piece of earth can produce something inspiring and profound. There is so much contained in a glass of wine, it’s a gift of nature that tastes of man’s foibles, his sense of the beautiful, his idealism and virtuosity.” Get out on the road, refuse to be assimilated, and enjoy the wine.