hipster youthful sommelier tilts at windmills in the wine world for your enjoyment and edification:
The notion of “pay-for-play” is usually a loaded one. When industry trade groups, publications, and awards are up for grabs, all hell can break loose. Awards and publicity can become trite, self-congratulatory, or at worst, untrustworthy. For example, it’s not a good practice for, say, a beverage magazine. So, you can imagine that I nearly ice-picked my eyes out after reading Wine Enthusiast’s new “40 under 40” list.
This is not to disparage all of the recipients. I spotted more than a few keepers on that list (like Brianne Day from Oregon’s Day Wines), but I also had no shortage of objections to their roster. The lineup looks suspiciously like an advertisement, and the picks are so white that they put the Oscars to shame. (And a good portion of the people listed are not really producing wine in any sense.) However, my main issue with the list is that it misses the mark on the very youth that theoretically provides the list’s raison d’être. If we’re going to talk about younger people in the industry leading us to new tastes, values, processes, etc., then we should be talking about the agitators, the provocateurs and those uninterested in the status quo. I propose a new list of those whose smarts and savvy are leading the wine world to new places, and not helping proliferate a suburban wine-pocalypse by catering only to the tastes of Robert Parker and his minions. This is far from a complete list, but is meant to highlight a handful of the new kids building a new winemaking world that is very much so shouting “fuck you” to the status quo.
Sterling Whitted, Wine: Holden, “Photosynthesis”, Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, USA. 2014
I recently met Sterling Whitted, the maker behind the ultra-small production Holden Wines and had the pleasure of drinking through his collection. The 30-something felt like someone I knew in high school, a bit shaky in an Adderall frenzied type of way. To be honest, the demeanor, like his wine, felt refreshingly authentic; industry kids (myself included) always seem to be a little jacked up. And, Whitted is indeed an industry kid; as recently as two years ago, he was still holding down a restaurant job while experimenting with winemaking.
His most recent creation is Photosynthesis, an unfiltered, unfined Pinot Noir made with native yeasts. The wine drinks unlike its Oregon counterparts, lacking the typical cherry cola profile. Instead, it creates a pretty idiosyncratic moment. Despite a self proclaimed “Northern Italian focus” and clear old world Burgundy influences, Whitted’s pinot noir identifies as the product of a younger palate. The wine takes more risks, it isn’t afraid to slam acid and ripeness together along with an almost Alpine earthiness. The taste is that handful of blackberries in your mouth while playing the drinking game “slap shot.” The addition of floral and pronounced herbal elements like rose and basil only serves to complicate the melange. The flavor is a little confused, but in that “I can do whatever the fuck I want, I’m 17, punk, and on a mission” kinda way. Sterling Whitted is the lead singer jumping off the stage into a crowd of sweaty bodies with the confidence of someone who is pretty sure that he isn’t hitting the floor.
Martin Texier, Wine: “Brezeme”, Syrah. Northern Rhone, FR. 2014
Martin Texier isn’t famous just because his father, Eric, is Rhone royalty. Nor is he famous because his education includes stints at NYC’s Flatiron Wines, A1 Records (he’s also a DJ,) and with Jean-Marie Guffens in the Macon. He is famous because he took all that conventional shit he learned through his upbringing, knocked it over and stole its lunch money. His wines are bold experiments, conjuring idealized visions from 1970s NYC film school dropouts or a 1980s ABC No Rio squat utopia. Texier’s offerings deliver an unrivaled tactile quality, full of the unmitigated hope and excitement found in a pre-party ritual. Alas, there is a need for that hope, because bottles often lack consistency, but that comes with the territory.
Texier is now working with five hectares in and around St.-Julien-en-St.-Alban. Clay, limestone, schist, gneiss and granite soils are planted with classic Rhône varietals like Grenache and Syrah. Brezeme is currently my favorite of his wines; each minute opened is a minute of change. There is a distinct battered, but still kind of glossy, rustic quality to Brezeme–it’s like an aged, balding and fat Marlboro man watching TV in his undies, but still rallying to ride his horse to work. The unique flavor is the product of combining whole bunches-maceration carbonic with destemmed Syrah grapes foot-crushed and then fermented with native yeasts in concrete tanks. There is a burnt campfire and berries thing going on–a little bit like an old vintage Montepulciano. Martin Texier is a dreamer – he is that sweet spot in 1969 between Woodstock and Altamont. Total and complete anticipation with a reckless abandon fit for a house party.
Laura Lorenzo Wine: DaTerra Viticultores. “Azos de Pobo”. 50% Gran Negro & Garnacha Tintorera, 50% Mencía, Mouraton, Marenzao, etc. VdT Val do Bibei, Spain, 2015
I’ve written about Laura Lorenzo’s wines out of Ribeira Sacra before and will continue to do so. Like Texier and Whitted, her products have a super temporal feel. Lorenzo’s wines recapture the undeniable “I hope I die before I get old” moment of our youth. Her Azos de Pobo is a particular standout, a single parish Gran Negro and Garnacha Tintorera mix from the pueblo of Soutipedre within the village of Manzaneda. The wine’s minerality is probably a bit like getting stoned to death–if getting stoned to death involved doing gravity bong hits out of your bathtub until you die. The taste is an intoxicating rush–deep, red fruit is being pulled out of rock formations and everyone is loading up their wagon’s for the trip west. That dark earthiness is offset by florals reminding us that there is a better tomorrow. The final result isn’t 100% sure of itself yet–but that is what trumps antiquity–unrelenting angst. Lorenzo is fighting her discontent by bringing back ancient techniques and mixing rare varietals. The “myth of progression” is total bullshit–ask Laura Lorenzo–she’s burning wheelchairs on the terraces of Ribeira Sacra.