Wine | Bill St. John

By Bill St. John Special to The Denver Post

In my line of work, I meet winemakers and winery owners from all over the world. Their conversations with me pass on so much about wine what it means to them, what they themselves have learned about it, and how better to appreciate it.

I’d like to share some of these conversations, passing on to you what these folk first gave to me.

How long grape vines can live and still produce: “We do not know when the useful life of a grape vine ends. Some of my grenache vines are more than 150 years old. They are among the oldest vines on the planet, yet they give me some of my best, my greatest fruit.” Dave Powell, owner and winemaker at Torbreck Vintners, Barossa Valley, south Australia

Why white wine is more difficult to make than red: “White wine is a purer medium than red because there is less maybe no winemaking technique to interfere.” Christian Beyer, Maison Emile Beyer, Alsace, France

Why aglianico is “today the most exciting red grape in Italy”: “This is about the combination of time and temperature. Aglianico grows best on poor soils, on hillsides at cooler, higher elevations. That means that we pick aglianico in mid- to late November, an exceedingly late date for a grape harvest. Such a long ripening time means that the phenolic maturation [of flavors, aromas and tannins] is therefore complete, not just the alcoholic [or sugar] maturation.” Leonardo LoCascio, founder and chairman of Winebow

On Tokaji, the rare sweet wine of Hungary: “In the 17th and 18th centuries, high sugar content in a wine was considered a health restorative. Tokaji was the only bottle that was allowed at the bedside of the pope.” Ben Howkins, co-founder of Royal Tokaji, Hungary

On pricing over the years: “At the turn of the 1900s, on the wine list at [the Boston restaurant] Locke-Ober Cafe, German riesling was more expensive than red Bordeaux. A bottle of riesling was listed at $7.50, but a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux was only $2.” David Weitzenhoffer, co-owner of A.I. Selections, a wine importer and distributor

How different soils make for different styles of Chilean carmenere: “Where you stand on carmenere depends on where you sit. Younger soils, alluvial soils, tend to produce simple wines with less complexity of tannins. Wines from ancient mother-rock soils soils like limestone, schist or granite are quite different. When the rock is hard, the wines tend to have tight structure, but when the rock breaks up and there is more clay in the soil, the tannic structure gains roundness and the wine is more immediately approachable.” Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Casillero del Diablo and Marques de Casa Concha, Chile

On the texture or tactile sensation of wine: “When I am tasting a wine, it’s like spelunking in a cave. I sense the wine as a stream running through my mouth; sometimes it is straight through, like a narrow stream; sometimes wider, more open, like a slower, softer ride. The tannins and acidity, I get a sense of, too, whether they’re apparent all the way through [the taste], or just manifest on entry.” Steven Kent Mirassou, winemaker at Steven Kent Portfolio

On “100-point” wine rating systems: “I mean ‘100’ assumes perfection, which logically does not make sense. The 100-point system defeats itself because it is internally irrational. There are other ways to sell wine not even rate it that are more intellectually interesting.” Christophe Hedges, Hedges Family Estate, Washington

Great one-liners:

“I don’t want to make wheelbarrows full of rhinestones anymore. I just want to make a handful of gems.” Richard Arrowood, owner and winemaker at Amapola Creek, Sonoma Calif., who made wines for 47 harvests for very large wineries, now 2,500 cases a year at Amapola Creek

“The term ‘lift’ expresses how fruit aromas and flavors come forward in a wine. It’s like a push-up bra. It separates out the fruit, lifts it up, keeps things perky.” John Duval,winemaker in Australia, Chile and Washington

“The best education is to open a bottle. Bring South Africa into the home; bring France, bring Italy into the home.” Kevin Zraly, wine educator

“The only oak that [the 2010 Etre Sonoma Coast Chardonnay] sees is the pallet that we stack it on.”Jeff Gaffner, winemaker at Saxon Brown Wines

Bill St. John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 40 years. He was food editor at The Denver Post and now lives in Chicago. E-mail him at[1]


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