2012; An Odyssey from A-Z

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Wine is fermented grape juice. Nothing new or sensational there. A majority of the world’s wine consumers settle with knowing this and that’s just fine. Sometimes though, I just wish they’d give wine a few moments and look at it in a wider perspective, adding culture, history, people, food, even civilization. Just once.

Wine’s importance through history can’t be stressed enough; just ask the guys who signed the US Declaration of Independence and afterwards toasted in Madeira, back then the most praised drink in the American society. Wine’s a cultural property generating just as much pride, even more probably for some countries, than the national soccer team. Just ask the French. Wine is simply civilization. Sometimes I wish people would look at wine like that.

Attempting to understand the whole picture will result in both appreciation and apprehension when it comes to getting to know a wine and who’s behind it – and less point drinking. This especially relates to lesser known wines or regions – and probably also those suffering from your prejudice.

Some years ago I had high hopes that this gap in the world of wine media would be filled by bloggers who themselves can chose what to write about, not being dependent on a paycheck. It also started nicely but now, when we write 2012, I realize that many wineblogs chose another direction. For sure there are several great and unique sites out there, doing their thing – and which I just love to follow – but this year it has, for me, become a sad fact that too a many wineblogs has chosen the path they initially claimed to be an antipole of. Do we need more people highlighting bargain buys, pleasing the masses and adding not much new, basically just rephrasing the stuff? Do we want wineblogs where the agenda tends to become ambigous? Do we want writing without a personal twist? Do we want wine writing which enviously watches what the food bloggers are up to?

Am I better than others? Well, only you can decide upon that, but read my criticism both as a reader and blogger. For me, it’s been a year when I wrote much less than normal because I only wanted to write when I had something of interest to say. It’s been a year when I realized for sure that you must be a bit crazy to spend so much time sharing a passion without getting tons of readers – or paid for doing it. It’s been an expensive wine year; travel and purchase wise.

I mix emotions with passion and knowledge in my writing. It’s a difficult road I’ve chosen, I know that. Hence transparency is an essential part in my writing and should I fail expressing that, I can just as well quit. You decide, if I succeed or not.

So, what do I want to read, in 2013? Stories, more in-depth posts, personal reflections, travel observations, meetings! Sure, write a post about a specific wine but do it with your own words, your own thoughts and don’t bother to think if people will like it or not. All the boring tasting notes are already written! The very same moment you adapt to an audience, in order to get more readers, trying to be popular, write for the masses or with a hidden agenda, you throw away your uniqueness, personality and transparency. Yes, it is obvious.

To all winebloggers out there; dare being yourself in 2013, despite if you try to make a few bucks on your wine writing or not. And to you readers; comment! Help making wineblogs what they can be and interact. That’s the best salary for us doing this week in and out!

As before, I am summing up my personal impressions of the year from A to Z! It’s no secret that the list focuses on the countries and regions I’ve visited in 2012. Thanks for following, commenting and reading my thoughts!

 

A-grapes of the year. Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso and Azal. Vinho Verde offers a wide variety of indigenous grapes and the quality has never been higher, something I finally was able to see for myself when visiting the huge region of Minho in 2012. However, running a quality oriented winery is hardly a bed of roses. I’ve seen their struggle and it must be frustrating having a whole world’s prejudice towards Vinho Verde to beat. Forget about the light, slightly fizzy and refreshing drink you have in mind right now. Instead, think dry, restrained, mineral driven and even oak aged wines sometimes. No gas, you hear?

Buddies of the year. Without the people behind the wines, I’m not sure my passion would be as intense. Wine is not a product of nature, it is a product of human beings interpreting a part of nature, some with more, some using less interventions. That is why I cherish the meetings as much as the end product, that is why I travel to wine regions, that is why I have close contact with producers. A very special thanks this year goes out to newly found friends and acquaintances around the world, perhaps mainly in Portugal and Hungary, but also those extending my Madeiran family. Thank you István, Vítor, László, Manuel, Humberto, Juan, Zoli, Andras, Agnes, Luís, Isabel, Anselmo, FernandaPedro, Petros, Rui and Mannie!

Celebration of the year. October 11, Funchal, Madeira. A day filled with contrasts, my 40th birthday. In the morning I got a teddy bear from my girls, because “daddy needed a cuddly toy.” Then meeting with Francisco de Albuquerque and Filipe Azevedo, winemakers at Blandy’s, who had arranged a great Verdelho tasting for me – and besides that served an amazing birthday glass, the 1972 Sercial which is still in cask. Then a glass of my all-time favorite Verdelho together with Luís d’Oliveira at Pereira d’Oliveiras – the 1850. Magic. And just to emphasize the contrasts occured on my big day, me and my girls (two daughters, one wife) went out for pizza in the evening. Can the 50th birthday beat that in ten years to come?

Demeter of the year. I’m pretty fed up with the holistic approach to agriculture, the biodynamic farming. How can grown up people believe in something that emerged from a guy that had zero experience of agriculture but still laid the foundation for a whole movement? Take good care of your vineyards, treat them with passion. That is what makes a difference. Just try the wines from the one and only Demeter, Zoltán Demeter in Tokaj, and you will understand. No biodynamics, just the love for his profession and vines. And something we tend to forget in this discussion – a bunch load of skills. Mr. Demeter produces world class stuff without hocus pocus. Thank you Zoltán!

Emotional moment of the year. October 2012. My Madeira passion has resulted in numerous trips to the island, so many memorable glasses over the years and now I’m visiting Juan Teixeira again at Justino’s. Winemaker and General Manager. For some reason we touch the subject, how it all started for me, my Madeira passion, and I tell him the story about the 1940 Sercial from them, back then labeled Vinhos Justino Henriques. Juan is smiling and turning around to find a certain bottle – the 1940 Sercial Vintage. So many thoughts running through my mind that nano-second when I see it again, the one that started it all. Wine is emotional – at least it is for me, a hopeless wine romantic. Thanks Juan!

Frontman of the year. Stick to classic regions and wines that are considered the top stuff and you will miss out on what makes wine the greatest and most diverse beverage existing. Like Pedro Araujo’s Quinta do Ameal where the local Loureiro grape is put in focus. Vinho Verde is not high up on your pinnacle right? Well, can’t blame you. Most of the promotion is all about sticking to prejudice, not highlighting diversity and premium quality. Sad, because Pedro and his outstanding Loureiro wines could need it. And your wine passion would get a kick out of it. One of the most interesting meetings this year, took place in the Lima Valley and at Ameal where Loureiro reigns. Barriques and Vinho Verde; what a great pairing!

Grape of the year. I went to Tokaj to find out more about their dry Furmint wines. I came home with a newfound love named Hárslevelű. The great grape of Hungary is Furmint. But the single vineyard Hárslevelűs I tasted were my discovery of the year. Király from István Szepsy, Szerelmi from Zoltán Demeter, Szil-Völgy from Gizella Pince and the Betsek/Mézes-Mály from István Balassa, showed a new world to me and why wine traveling is an essential part to gain further knowledge. I would never have read my way to this discovery.

Holyfuckinguacamoley of the year. I’m no Nebbiolo fan, most of my wine friends knows that. Yet they keep on pouring me Barolo and Barbaresco and for that I thank them. After all, we all know you can’t rule out a grape when there are hundreds of producers with just as many interpretations. And somehow it’s almost a bit ironic then, that I would consider a Nebbiolo wine as one of the best table wines I’ve ever had. Thanks Ulrik! The Conterno 1971 Monfortino Riserva Speciale can’t be described in words, yet I tried: “The nose is to die for. Stupidity to even try to put words on the complexity. What strikes me though, is the wine’s remarkable freshness. Marigold, rose-hips and roses. Sweet-root, mint and fresh pipe tobacco. No sawdust here, just beautifully integrated botti feel. Humus, iron and just a hint of tar. There’s such an intensity and purity on the nose I’m almost afraid of tasting…”

Innocence of the year. An Innocent Bystander, this? The vibrant, floral and fizzy 2012 Moscato from down under is one heck of an adult drink! If the nose charms your pants off I don’t know how to define the palate! Unripe blood orange, powdering sugar, melon, roses and tickling, almost fizzy herbal acidity. The sweetness is so well wrapped in. Purity in a glass. Serve as a starter to your guests. One half bottle each. After all, it’s only 5,5 per cent.

Just saying of the year. There’s no school like the old school. That is, when Rioja is poured in my glass. A bit sad that these wines receive so little attention nowadays. When my personal opinion is that Rioja as a region in whole is searching for an identity – some succeeding, some not – we have the likes of La Rioja Alta, CVNE, Marques de Vargas, R. Lopez de Heredia, Beronia and to some extent, Muga, that delivers well-made traditional wines. I tasted the 2001 Reserva Especial from La Rioja Alta a few times in 2012 and the wine truly showed what Rioja still is all about for me; integrated oak, plenty of it yes, but well handled, elegance, red berries and humus. Just loved it. Moral of the story: Don’t forget about old school Rioja!

Klout of the year. I’m on Klout, trying to understand what the fuzz is all about. I must confess I’m not really getting it. And why should I? Nobody gives a shit about my Klout score since it’s not measuring a specific person’s influence but the person’s social media activity; updating statuses constantly, getting likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, +1 on G+, Linkedin, Instagram….well, you name it. So, should an impressive Klout score only be interpreted as one is spending too much time on Twitter, or for being recognized for one’s knowledge on specific subjects – and not just famous for being famous? Call me a reactionary, but can’t we just talk wine, use a good search engine optimization and in the end, after years of proven knowledge and ability to spread it, deserve accolades or not?

Love of the year. I don’t know how you guys figured that out, me hitting the big 40, but I’d like to thank all of you who sends me links with slimming programs; even if I do think of myself as having a healthy weight. I know, a deceiving illusion, to think one’s BMI is just fine. So a big thanks for all the wake-up comments. Furthermore, I’d like to thank all of you who every day sends me tips where to pick up those pills that ensures the snuggling. Just four zero but still, lots of warm thoughts out there I feel. Lots of love to you too! Just sad my spam filter is so darn effective…

Monks of the year. “We are not brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.” Finally I’m tasting the Belgian Westvleteren Trappist 12. The king of beers according to those who know their stuff. And I have to agree. Tasting the beer and Holy schmoly (sorry monks), it’s good! Acidity, barly sweetness, intensity and a long finish that just refuses to give up. I love the sweetness which I guess some might have some difficulty with. But it’s so well-balanced and the spicy, almost oriental feel and the vanilla and coffee notes, adds even more depth. The sweet-root is there as well, accompanied by undervegetation, pipe tobacco and moist leather. The alcohol content says 10.2 per cent and I just wonder where it’s hiding. Never an alcohol feel to it. Yes, it’s the best beer I’ve tasted and I want more!

Numeric scale of the year. Yes, a scale is a scale even if you don’t use numbers. Still, I prefer Divine, Magical or Brilliant to points. Wine generates some form of emotional manifestation whether it is truly fantastic or a huge disappointment. I prefer describing these emotional feelings with words, in order to stay closer to the world of arts. After all, wine is for me more related to the Humanities than the exact mathematics (although I admit the production might need a more mathematical approach at some stages). Hence 2012 saw the birth of my very own rating scales, The Virtuoso Says and The Mam Opinion. Like it, hate it – it is here to stay.

OMG of the year. Half a year ago I tasted their wines for the first time. I was blewn away by their mineral driven character, the cool fruit and how seductive they were. What more can a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir freak ask for? Then of a sudden I’m sitting next to one of the guys behind the winery, Rajat Parr, at a private dinner. Rajat has brought his 2010 Bent Rock Chardonnay and 2010 Evening Land Tempest Pinot Noir. Tasted after a Corton-Charlemagne duo and a ditto Romanée-St-Vivant, none of the wines needed an excuse, au contraire. Then, a few weeks ago, in a blindtasting, a 2010 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir beats the shit out of Groffier’s 2010 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses. Not that the Burgundy was bad, the Bien Nacido was just better. Sandhi wines is spot on my taste buds. Find one and I suspect it will become a favorite of yours as well.

Palace of the year. Wasn’t it Marcel Proust who wrote, before finally able to visit Venice, that the longing for a place often was stronger than the actual visit? Well, I’ve been wanting to visit the Palácio Hotel do Buçaco for years but first in 2012, I got the chance. And believe me, it surpassed the longing! The Palace, once intended for royal purposes is today a hotel. Fascinating architecture, mixing beauty with threatful ornaments, has an amazing garden and of course there’s the wine cellar as well. This is Bairrada land (Baga and Touriga Nacional) and the wine produced at the Palace can be a great treat. With the classic Leitâo of the region, the suckling pig, the 2001 Reservado was one heck of a pairing. I’ll tell you, it was worth the wait!

Quinta of the year. The view from the top is breathtaking. Quinta Grande, Madeira’s largest vineyard with its 10 hectares, can be found hidden away from the main road close to the municipality of Câmara de Lobos. Terraces are constantly being built here, to be able to work the vines and to reduce the risks of landslip. It’s not an easy life, managing a vineyard in Madeira. Besides the issues linked to the topography, it is an expensive lifestyle for a wine producer. However, standing at the very top of the vineyard, watching the amazing landscape, the terraces and the surrounding forrest, I imagine its worth it. Wow!

Restaurant of the year. We arrive in the afternoon, me, Andras and Zoli, to the village of Mád. Some of Tokaj’s greatest producers has their premises here but what comes as one of the coolest surprises in years, when walking the streets of this rural and tiny village, is that amongst farms, dogs on the loose, there is a fine dine restaurant run by Szepsy Jr. Guestau Kulinaris delivers local specialties with a fine dine touch to it. The beef soup is so nice I had to eat it twice! And since it’s Tokaj, only white wines on the list since the production of red wine is a big no, no. They produce their own wine as well, the restaurant, and it’s for sure worth ordering. By the way, their rack of pork….madonna!

 

Schist of the year. Most of you probably think Germany when schist is the topic. I think Douro. With the revolution the last twenty years, when it comes to table wines in the region of Port, schist has played an essential part allowing the end product to show its uniqueness. However, don’t think that the best port vineyards are the best for table wines as well. Try António Mendes premium wine, the Quinta do Javali Tinto 2009 from Old Vines and you will understand the magic and what it’s all about. A wonderful wine from one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions.

Trilogy of the year. At this year’s visit to the Olím brothers, Artur and Edmundo, I learnt that there’s no more Terrantez after their recently bottled 1981 Vintage. Sure, it’s amazing that you can buy their trilogy of 1979, 1980 and 1981 of the rare grape – at bargain prices – but I still don’t get it why so little is done to save the greatest grape of them all in Madeira. Yes, the low-yielding Terrantez has always been scarcely planted on the island, but that fragrance, that taste…it just can’t disappear. Do I have to come myself and plant a Terrantez vineyard?

Unbelievable Douro of the year. I was kind of hoping he would pop one, but if not, I wouldn’t ask. I had heard about the new release of Wine & Soul, the Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas, but knew the production was miniscule. Jorge Borges never hesitated. I guess this is what I love about Portugal, the genuine generosity. The wine? Well, both the 2009 and 2010 are amongst the best I’ve ever tasted from Douro and I cherish them higher than Jorge & Sandra’s more acknowledged Pintas. The Vinhas Velhas is all about elegance and exactly what I seek in a wine. Furthermore, it shows that Douro table wines have taken the next step and divorced themselves from the port wines.

Vineyard of the year. “Come back in ten years. Then this part of Szent Tamás is the greatest in the whole of Tokaj,” István says smiling. Meeting with István Szepsy was withouth doubt my vinous highlight of the year. The knowledge and friendliness of István was such an honor to take part of. After all, the man has worked in Tokaj since 1966 and had a few stories to tell. And the wines! Tokaj is the Burgundy of Hungary and there’s a reason for it, considering this is the first classified wine region of the world going back to 1730. Give the hungarians a decade, give Szepsy’s Szent Tamás a decade; then this is true world class – even if the 2006 and 2009 already are there.

Wunderbar of the year. The ultimate magic comes with Parcela Unica. The best Alvarinho grapes is used for this extremely limited wine. Basically similar to the Curtimenta with the exception of showing more mineral depth, a more complex taste and intensity and an impressive long lasting finale. Less oak feel which might be explained by a greater intensity in the wine. A keeper. In my book, 2011 Parcela Unica is one of Portugal’s top-3 best white wines. Almost Burgundy feel. I know, scarce production on this one and it wont be easy to find, but please try if you want to understand the quality level Alvarinho can reach! Anselmo Mendes is a hero of mine. Basta.

Xanadu of the year. Roughly a five hours flight, if not having a transfer in Lisboa, I don’t have to travel around the world to reach my paradise. Great people, lots of history, good food and the most breathtaking wines in the world. What more can I ask for? Well, maybe more vacation so I could go often? Madeira and Funchal is a must visit for winelovers and I’m seriously considering starting wine trips to the island, for Scandinavians, so that people can discover the island and its producers!

YDI, You Deserve It of the year. This is 2012. We can do anything except keeping the wines free from cork taint or other defects. Never have I popped so many cork tainted wines as this year. For a while I almost started to believe  the issue was related to me and my storage facilities, but that suspicion quickly disappeared when trying wines more or less a day or two after arrival – and still several cork tainted experiences. I’m fed up with this and always having to fight for my right for reimbursement. Some e-resellers never respond when I have told them about cork tainted wines I’ve bought from them and asked for their position on this. Considering starting to hang them out on my site – as a warning list who you shouldn’t deal with. We, the end consumers deserves better! Take your got d-mn responsibility, all involved!

Zeta of the year. Have you ever heard of Zeta? It’s a crossing between Furmint and Bouvier, developed in the 1950′s. Even if it is tough to cultivate and needs a lot of care, the early ripening grape is appreciated in Tokaj because it is very prone to noble rot. And we all know what some rot can do to a Tokaj! István Balassa served me his 2008 Zeta from the Mézes-Mály vineyard when I visited him. A golden colored wine with an intense nose of honey, wet rocks, wax, dried apricots and lavender. Sweet, yes for sure, but with that trademark of the region, an apple like acidity. 193 grams of sugar and still refreshing. We drink way too little of late harvest wines and I constantly fail in understanding why people are so afraid of sweetness. I mean, if you’re on a diet you shouldn’t drink wine at all right?

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