WineInk: Travels in a Wine Shop
This week you can take a trip to wine country from your living room sofa if you have Netflix. Fifteen years after Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” a buddy picture that took place in Santa Barbara wine country, comes Amy Poehler’s “Wine Trip,” a buddy picture that takes place in Napa wine country. But this one is for the girls. The entire “Saturday Night Live” female ensemble (Pohler, Fey, Dratch, Rudolph, etc.) gathers for a 50th birthday celebration and hilarity ensues. We hope. Scheduled for release May 10 on Netflix, the film has scenes shot at Quintessa and Artesa Vineyards and Winery.
Under the Influence
2017 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay
If I were to take a wine trip today it might be to the magnificent Walker Bay region on the Western Cape of South Africa. There, in one of the southernmost wine outposts for fine wine on the African continent, Hamilton Russell produces Burgundian varietals, pinot noir and chardonnay. This 2017 vintage from the eponymous label was one of Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines last year. Buy a bottle and think of the spectacular coast from which it hails as you sip it.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no doubt that getting out among ’em is the best way to enjoy wines. There is nothing like taking a trip to wine country, no matter where it is.
But sometimes you just can’t take the time to travel to your favorite international wine destination. So, what to do?
Well, why not spend an hour or so in your favorite local wine shop? Sure, you’ll miss out on the sun, the wind and vines — and all that dirt — but you also won’t have to worry about the crowds, the tasting fees or the drive home that are part and parcel of a trip to wine country.
I equate stopping in a local wine shop to going to an independent bookstore. You can always go in and buy that book, or bottle, that you know and are looking for. But there are few things better than having an open mind and serendipitously making a new discovery. If you have the time and a few bucks, you can look at bottles from around the world and come home with one that will provide you a trip in a glass.
Want to go to Australia this spring? How about a tasty shiraz or a GSM (a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre) from McLaren Vale instead? Think South Africa is a bit too long a flight? Well, there are wines from Stellenbosch that have traveled here for the specific purpose of giving you a taste of the sun and soils and sea of that Southern Hemisphere region. As long as we have visions of the autumnal splendor in wine regions below the equator at this time of year, you might want to explore an Argentinian pinot noir from Patagonia. And don’t forget the tried and true. Every shop will have wines you have not tasted, or even considered, from France, Italy and Spain.
Just walking into a wine shop, especially one that is tended by a proprietor who cares, can be an educational experience. In most wine shops these days the wines are sorted by location or varietal. Much like a bookshop sorts titles by true crime or travel or history, wine shops sort their wines by style, such as bubbles, rosé or cabernet sauvignon, or by geography, say, France, Australia, California and so on. Simply pick a region and peruse the offerings. Read the labels, see which vineyards they are from, who the winemakers are. Visualize what you think the vineyards would look like. And ask the shopkeeper about the wine. It may not be a trip to wine country, but it will teach you something.
And it is always fun to stumble upon wines that you may have already discovered in the past on previous trips to wine country. Wine has the ability to both make, and elicit, memories. Just coming across an old favorite in a wine shop can take you back, at least in your mind, to that time and place where you were indeed in a vineyard and could smell the dirt.
I took the opportunity on a spring week to stop in a couple of local wine shops, and explored the racks. While it didn’t totally cure my wanderlust, I did come across a trio of wines that were affordable, made by reliable producers, and representative of different regions in the wine world.
I started with a $13 bottle of Stump Jump from Aussie wine iconoclast Chester Osborn’s d’Arenberg Cellars. Of the plethora of wines d’Arenberg produces, these Stump Jump releases are the most accessible, both literally and figuratively. Next, I stumbled upon a surprising 2014 Nómade Pinot Noir produced by Tomas Achaval in the Rio Negro region of Patagonia, Argentina, for just over $15. In the France section, there was a 2016 Kermit Lynch Selection Côtes du Rhone from the Terres d’Avignon cave co-op for $15, as well.
For under $60 including tax, or about the price of a pair of hardback books, I had three wines for the weekend from three different vintages from three different continents, each separated by vast oceans and thousands of miles. Yet they all showed the passion shared by three different men who make up this world of wine. They are, in fact, the authors of these wine stories.
As I wrote this, I was reminded of a place that is both a bookstore and a wine shop. The Athenaeum de la Vigne et du Vin sits in the heart of Burgundy, directly across from the famed Hospice De Beaune in Beaune, France. It claims to have the largest selection of wine books and accessories in France. And it also sells top wines of the region, including those of the Hospice De Beaune.
Books and wine. Perhaps I should schedule a trip.
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