There are about 5 people in the whole industry I have ever wanted to meet. They are my ‘celeb’ equivalents to Oprah, Madonna and the ‘Bieb’. They are more than famous. They are the bedrock of my career and passion for wine. Though Jancis Robinson may always hold the number one spot in my heart (what a badass), Mr. Theise isn’t far behind. For it is he who has possibly turned me onto wine in a way that is more applicable than any other wine hero in my book. See, Terry Theise helped me find the language I needed to discuss it.
Words are possibly my fondest fetish. I was maybe seven, and I remember laying on my itchy pink bedroom carpet by the teeniest little Mickey Mouse nightlight (I had to pretend I was afraid of the dark to petition for that one) in order to read any number of books, whether Boxcar Children, Laura Ingalls Wilder or Shel Silverstein. I used to write ridiculous picture books and try to sell them at school, thinking I might get on Good Morning America or something.
That never happened.
I did, however, have a string of incredible teachers (who in hindsight were very much a product of the ‘60’s) imbue unto me a love so great for well-strung words, I nearly slept with the Thesaurus every night. I believe it was the author Julia Alvarez who once said that she writes in English not because it is more marketable, rather, there are so many words in our language that are never used. Something to that effect. It’s so provocative and encouraging for a writer that our own language is so untapped…or un-stretched, rather.
I took it pretty far—a grad degree and a couple papers to prove it. But the more political and theoretical it got, the more I began to drift from the aesthetic that had anchored my passion in the first place.
Over wine, I would lament my failed choice of Academia—with a BIG ‘A’. I sat in my little NYC apartment and drank $10 wine. But still, no matter the cost, I found myself researching them more than I did Lacan or Freud. They took my imagination to a place that was more tangible. I could taste the evidence of words in my glass.
Suddenly, my fuzzy life came into focus. There is merit to learning how to articulate the enriching moments of life. Outside the window, taxis honked, people were running to catch a subway and a dog peeing on a tree was being pulled by his impatient owner to hurry up. And there I was. Sniffing away. Marveling at the garnet hue. Seeing the legs slowly dribble on the bowl. Smelling grandpa’s cherry tobacco, the leather saddles of my aunt’s horse stable, a walk in the Wisconsin woods when I was ten and the raspberries I used to pick with my ma. I thought about the family who made the wine I was drinking—their generational longevity and involvement, their standards, integrity and hard work. The vintage—when it rained, how much was lost, when it was picked, if they stomped them in a celebration. The soils, the sunlight, the rivers that cut through… I thought about the meal I am eating—its own particular personality, and how it changed with the wine.
And then, I explain it to others.
I tell of the time I saw a dozen bins get rejected in an instant at Pride. How the cutest little old lady in the world (hand shaking with each delicate, slow pour) threw down an impressive amount of alcoholic liquid before 11 a.m. at Saint Cosme. The time I saw the final Piemontese grapes come in on the sorting table at Vajra: the hard to find Freisa varietal. The musty, mineral smell of the chalk caves of Champagne. The humble meals at home where friends and I have contributed homemade food, time honored wines and singular conversation.
Wine has managed to enrich my life in a way that has been so rewarding, because it’s not just about my own selfish harvest of happiness. I can help others learn how to better open their own senses and minds to its endless stories. Wine’s endless words. When you understand a piece of life better, you tend to enjoy it more. People find this when they return from a trip. Napa isn’t so intimidating anymore. Italian reds kinda make sense.
Like Theise, it is difficult not to get enraptured with grower Champagne and small production, traditional farmers. They keep it real to the region and don’t seem to topple over one another for an arbitrary rating to keep them motivated to put out another vintage. They are, as he said, transparent in their ways and honest. And you can taste it.
We mostly had wines from the 2010 vintage. A really weird vintage, to say the least. Mouth-ripping acid that had to be tamed with de-acidification measures (and apparently if anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying, for everyone needed to turn down the naturally high acid) and unusually high sugars as well. It is a vintage for the true acid freak. I believe that I learned I am not as ‘freaky’ as I thought. Even my palate needs a little TLC. And by that, I mean sugar. Or oak. Or malo. Or lees. Anything to take that edge off! I am eager to see what they become, though. They were more than promising. I fear they were a bit shocked coming into the state just days ago. They seemed edgy and wound—like a nicotine addict going through withdrawals. They need to chill out. Right now, they conjure an image: running with scissors, like that one memoir. I bet they turn a corner in about a year and surprise us all!
Like Theise said, there’s really no other vintage to compare it to. It is a lone ranger. A rebel without a cause. A question to be answered.
My short time meeting Terry, listening to him discuss wine and his love for wine with the metaphoric prowess of Shakespeare, I was inspired, as I always am. I am humbled, completely and totally in the face of true talent.
And so, I continue to drink, contemplate and spread the good word about wine to those who will listen, raise a glass and approximate sensual density in life one more sip at a time.
A handful of tasting notes in a very Terry style:
2010 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner #1—A trip down the rabbit hole, its characters are never-ending, they play on the tongue for a very long time, showing both light and dark features. It’s playful and not too seductive. Fun but slightly mocking.
2010 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner ‘Hefeabzug’—A term they have trademark which refers to the time these wines spend on their lees, the Hefeabzug has long since won my heart. It is quite simply all I ever really want at the end of the day: a wine that is just serious enough, showing vastly beyond its price tag, precocious, smart and possibly one of the more serenely intense wines I have ever experienced under $25.
2009 Hirsch Riesling Heiligenstein—An impressive showing before it even makes it to the tongue, this Riesling is possibly best described as Terry put it, “Like it emerged from a Wiccan ceremony.” And it felt like that. It was blowing a little incense, a smoky shady tone that was mixed with dark places yet positive omens. It had seductively sweet flavors, but it had a tart bite, expressive yet reserved. It was dry. So dry. But tricky for all its blossomed, ripe fruit.
2010 JJ Christoffel Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett—This one was so unusual. So enticing. It put me somewhere lush. A damp garden. You might imagine it came from Great Expectations. Overgrown vegetation. Basil, mint, sweet peas and mineral rain dew. Deep yellow fruits were pregnant with ripeness. More extract and body. But still, like this vintage is showing, it changes mid palate. It becomes a porche of sorts. You feel its anatomy, its engine, it angular ways. You simply feel these more. They aren’t as untouchable as Riesling can often be. They aren’t necessarily less austere. They are still difficult to describe. But they evade superficial descriptors and rather are felt on the palate.
You must feel this vintage. It is paradoxal. It is profoundly unique. And it has a sense of humor despite its very promising future.