“The Week in Wine.” 26 June – 2 July, 2017

It was a heck of a week. I’m not even sure where to start. Earlier in the week, I finished up teaching my first summer course at the small private university that recently hired me to teach in their M.Ed. program, and devoted myself to planning the next one. I’ve been reading like crazy. Side note: If you haven’t read Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol, put it on your short list. Spoiler: It has nothing to do with wine. Later in the week, the dog bit our son, prompting a lengthy debate which I seem to have lost; the dog remains in our home (for the time being).  We had neighbors over several times, and I finished the month of June having run 105.5 miles, my best for the year so far.

On Friday, I learned that I passed my WSET II exam with merit, which was a huge relief and encouragement. (Big thanks to my parents for helping pay for yet another expensive test.) On Saturday night, I poured at a local wine bar I like, sharing six of my favorite wines with the regulars and club members, as well as a few dozen of my friends who stopped by to be supportive. I had a great time, but I can only stand being on that side of the bar for a limited spell; two hours was about perfect. In that time I met some terrific people, and I got to geek out about wine a lot without forcing my wife to listen to me. Tonight, we’re going to a friend’s house for dinner, and I’m hoping to pick up a cast-iron pot today as well, my aspiration being to learn to make coq au vin, though I’d better learn to spell it first. In short, things are good.

In fact, things are so good that the other day over a beer with a colleague, I had an epiphany. He was going to great lengths to try to tell me how to get what I want in life, specifically from the field of academia, which I believe was nothing but a well-intended gesture on his part. Nevertheless, I was struck with an idea so important that I interrupted him to share it: “There is nothing I want in the world that I do not already have.” He looked stunned. I was a bit stunned too, but I meant it. I have a beautiful family, a rewarding career, hobbies, interests, wonderful friends, seemingly endless opportunities. I see meaning in my life. There are things I’d like, yes, like to be on a school board one day and help to improve our educational system, or to take an extended vacation in the Adriatic, but those are simply things I’d like, and things that could easily be replaced with equally worthy ambitions like sitting on a local non-profit board or taking a nice vacation to Yellowstone or maybe the Grand Canyon. I have my health, I have love, and I find meaning in what I do each day. My daughter smiles at me when I call her “peanut” and my son loves reading books in my lap. My wife is as patient and compassionate as any human being I know. I have a lawn to mow and, when I finish that, wine to sip at on my patio. I want nothing more than what I already have. This realization shook me to my core, and I’ve been walking on air ever since.

It’s funny, because in the midst of writing the previous paragraph, my wife walked into my office to tell me that the sink is “broken.” How do you break a sink? was my first thought, but one I wisely kept inside my head. Truth is, our pressure has been low for a long time; Sonja didn’t break it. But when I realized it was the middle of a holiday weekend, I started laughing out loud. I suppose that’s the sort of reaction you can have to knowing you won’t have water in your kitchen for at least 72 hours when everything else is going well.

In addition to my epiphany and all of the wonderful time with friends, this week I tasted through 43 different wines. About half of them came on Saturday, between the tastings I visited and the tasting I hosted. Here are some of the highlights:

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This Champagne Moulin is a Naked Wines offering, and a terrific vintage Champagne. I popped the cork and shared it with Zach and a few other lovely people to celebrate our passing the WSET II. A really pleasant, young-feeling flavor profile and the excited bubbles you look for, it ranged from youthful fruits to toast and brie, and sufficiently helped us mark a milestone.

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Paired with grilled fare and neighbors coming over, this wine was a fun one! We love Robledo, and visited there on our honeymoon. Barbera was a varietal we learned about then, and while its obviously more popular in Italy, Sonoma and Napa do nice things with it as well. This one is young and bright and would age well, but also did nice things paired with a burger and good company.

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Sadly, this was my last bottle of this wine. A rare example of vinifera grown in Nebraska, the winemaker told me he wasn’t going to “mess with” Riesling anymore because it was too hard to grow and didn’t sell any better than the French hybrids anyway. Too bad for me. This Riesling is, or was, in my opinion, one of the best being made in the midwest. Light on the palate, only a subtle touch of sweetness, some plastics, and relatively low alcohol by American standards, I enjoy this wine a lot. We paired it with Indian food this week, and it really worked. Farewell, Nebraska-grown vinifera. You will be missed!

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Right place, right time. This one was opened at a tasting I was at yesterday, just for a high-end buyer to try. So I tried it too. I have had this blend many times, and marvel at its consistency, as well as the fact that it punches way above its $30 weight class. A great wine from a great winemaker and a world-famous producer, this should be on everybody’s short list of wines to try this year.

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As a reminder, I am decidedly not a love of Italian wines. That said, I have had some lately that are threatening my position. This is one of them. I’ve had many vintages of this, and if there’s a lack of consistency then its only because its getting better with every vintage. A bit more fruit than most other Montepulziano d’Abruzzo that I’ve had to compare it with, this wine is just a solid, smooth, easy-drinker with a vibrant and diverse flavor profile, and all in the $17 range. Ok, Italy, You win this time.

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YES YES YES YES YES. I selected this one to pour at my tasting last night because its one of the best whites on the market right now in my opinion. I spent a fair amount of time last night telling people about winemaker Mike Duffy, who in addition to being a terrific winemaker is a philanthropist who supports education and something of a Husker fan to boot. This wine, only the second vintage, is limited to 100 cases, and is simply something special. Refreshing, complex, smooth, the flavors astound me and evolve with every sip. If I could only have one white wine for the rest of my life, this would be one to consider.

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I really enjoy how people react to this wine when I pour it for them, which is why I feature it on many of the wine lists I create. Its completely unoaked, from winemaker Tom Rinaldi, and may very well be the purest expression of the varietal that I have ever encountered. Blind, I wouldn’t place it as Chardonnay. Last night at the tasting, I had two different people tell me they’d like to “skip the Chardonnay” because they don’t like it. I pleaded with them to try it, both did, and I got to watch their eyebrows raise as they both discovered that it’s not Chardonnay they don’t like, it’s just that they’d never tried this style before. I am a teacher, after all!

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This wine was worth the significant effort it took to get it in for the tasting, and a shout out to Jake at Pride for allocating a case to our state in order for me to share it last night. There was one case of Pride Viognier for the state of Nebraska, and I poured nearly half of that last night for people who all seemed to truly appreciate it. An amazing wine that I reviewed earlier this year on the blog, I spent a lot of my time sharing stories about my visit to Pride and what I love about the place so much while chatting with people who kept saying things like “I’ve never had anything like this before.” This is a really lovely wine, and if you’re at all a lover of the varietal, you can’t miss this one. Find it on their web page, since we’re almost out of it in Nebraska.

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Last but not least, my very favorite American Riesling, if not my favorite Riesling full stop. I poured about fifty pours of this last night, and never got tired of talking about what I love about this wine and the great people — Stu, Charlie, and Sam Smith, who make it. Utterly old world, I’d nail the varietal but land it in Alsace if I were blinding it; petrol and plastics, beautiful vibrant fruit and floral characteristics, and a lightness, crispness, and acidity to make any other Riesling jealous. I tried to get the owner of the wine bar to pay me in Smith-Madrone Riesling last night, instead of money, but she insisted on money. I guess we have similar priorities. Oh well.

So that was my week, yet another week in which some very nice wines complimented the incredible experience of living life on planet earth and interacting with all of the wonderful people I’m surrounded by. I hope that you find yourself feeling similarly to me in terms of contentment, no matter where you are or what you do. Life is too short, and too beautiful, to be spent in the Sisyphean pursuit of more. I’ll continue to do the things that make me happy and the things I know help others, and I’m sure you have those things in your life as well. Do those things. Do them as often as you can. And drink good wine. To hell with the rest of it.

Cheers,

Mark

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