"... a bombastic trail, fragrant footsteps of blown open peach, lemon-lime, tart crab apple and ripened reds - bobbing pockets of pulp blown open and grown balmy where the sea breeze and radiant rays collide; exposed salt-strewn and roasting where circling gulls, excited bees and erratic flies find the wanderer standing before that enticing orifice opened optimistically upward..."
So I've been away for a while, put down by allergies, a wedding and coming through a weird summer cold only to feel more like myself than I have since February, I prepared this entry (and a few others) in the meantime. Also I thought it would be informative to start showing the sketches to the oil paintings, sometimes I think they're more exact but then the paintings usually capture the liveliness and colors I'm after. So in contrast to the painting, here is the sketch. The small pencil lines along the ribs are where I was going to apply a slightly reflective blue/grayish tint to express better the raciness of the acidity, I just haven't gotten to the art store for that part yet.
After going to my third WSET class which covered Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, I thought I would be ambitious and open a slew of Chardonnays that I purchased soon after this class. Maybe it was a little too ambitious as I set out before me four bottles at 9 o'clock in the evening, after with a fresh dog walk and nothing in my stomach. But upon opening the first wine, sniffing the cork then the bottle nose, I had mistakenly opened something that didn't smell obviously like Chardonnay; perhaps it was altered so much so to exude such a bouquet, but no, it was another from the same producer and for better or worse it was a Sauvignon Blanc...
Now I'll be honest, I'm not particularly keen on Sauvignon Blanc. I can't say that I've had many that moved me or that kept me coming back. Since my earliest days in the wine shop I've had the pleasure (?) to sip through the vast seas of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as well as some Californian and South American and I can safely say that none have left an impression with me - New Zealand only because the Upper East side old ladies and moms were (and maybe still are) drinking gallons of Mudhouse or Goldwater or Oyster Bay.... I had so many of them... gag! From then on it was a no-go.
I think we all have that one varietal or style that we recognize but never feel compelled to pick up and this is mine: the scent of cat pee, heated pine wreaths in a standing pool of water slightly baked and cooking, or as some call it gooseberry; it's just an unappealing smell that's hard to get over. So with Peconic Bay I was opening up this sordid past, catching whiffs of those off-putting scents yet found myself confronted with an opened bottle and my pride at being someone who considers themselves open to trying anything honestly. Because I like to see the best in each wine, because it's harder to actually make faulty wine these days and because I like to think that the winemakers put their all behind each label, I pushed aside my preconceptions and ran with the wine for what it is: quintessential New World Sauvignon Blanc bursting with fruit in the nose and racing acidity - if I were going to be ultimately reductive, it was cat pee and soaking pine wreath all around and although it was quite expected, one only has to push past this and find more pleasantly redeeming associations: rising peach and apple pulp plumes mingling with warmed fruit - mostly white tart fruit- as the vivacious strumming acidity stretches the whole like widening ribs trying to separate, excitedly and ardently jumping from side to side while in the same course tethered together as it progressively widens and the fruit turns to a hint of sandiness and roasted notes peeking out from beneath this dynamic fruit-acid play; these hints kept me poking my nose back into the glass as I tried to find more outright faults with the wine beyond the aforementioned reasons...
In an unexpected way I came to appreciate it for what it was: a wine for lovers of fruit in their nose and an acid driven mouthfeel fit for summertime, but I'm not about to go out and buy a swath of Sauvignon Blanc and consider it my new love. It grew on me, the style itself appreciated, the wine in itself a reminder of what the varietal can be.
Since the winery obviously falls within my fascination of American Viticultural Areas outside the usual suspects (though this one doesn't quite fall within that category anymore), I found myself in the company of three bottles from the same winery and from a region I know little about.
The Peconic Bay Winery is situated on the North Fork of Long Island in the AVA of the same name. As is expected this AVA encompasses most of the eastern part of Suffolk County, and as one would expect is climatically well moderated by the Atlantic, Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay. This kind of environment helps extend the growing season -being on a peninsula off of a peninsula- with soils that are of a unique glacial composition that not only retains water but has equally great drainage and fertility - a combination that growers would love to have.
The winery itself was founded in 1979 and although not the first, as the website describes, they never intended to make wine but by 1989 they were doing just that and a decade later the winery was purchased by the Lowerres' who brought with them a much needed upgrade to the facilities. They maintain that their practices are low intervention, practice hand harvesting while producing 6,000-8,000 cases a year, and consider themselves stewards of the land with a strong sense of history one that a place like outer Long Island has retained and inner Long Island has seemingly lost (a.k.a Queens & Kings Counties). Living in New York City we are well acquainted with the winery's reputation for being a top quality producer of a variety of varietal and blended wines, so while on one of my buying sprees I also snatched up their Chardonnay "La Barrique" 2010 and a red blend called Lot #4 (Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc), which I've had before and found exquisite - I thought I was drinking a wine from France.
Tangent Alert! - I almost hate to make this kind of comment. The New World -especially the part of this country between New York and California that we all seem to ignore - is capable (I'm convinced) of making good and great wines for itself; it's really only a matter of time, in some part concentration with a dash of investment. So in making comparisons to the Old World I almost feel as if it's passe or even insulting to a whole section and culture of the market that has the history, technology, knowledge, passion and dare I say terroir that the Old World has held a monopoly over for much of recent history. I'm not going to refute the Old World's vast history and traditions regarding wine, that would be disingenuous and absurd; it has held the attention of drinkers and critics alike since the Romans, developed an economy on its wines that is no short throw deeply intertwined with the continents political history; it has established itself unchallenged in the area of how it defines its wines -every country with its own system, rules and regulations, a Bordeaux versus a Spatlese Riesling can vary greatly between grapes used, the picking dates, how ripe the grapes are, the viticultural practices, cellar practices and the list can go on and on culminating in Grand Cru and Grand Cru Classe designations, and these are what have become watered down in the drinkers mindset as to what constitutes "typical" for a varietal. However, in the same sweep we've been almost quickly been made to believe that everything else is inferior -perhaps too extroverted, too unlike, exhibiting louder pitches of character than what we're used to, but what we really are getting at is that these wines are perhaps offensive to our senses and conceptions of what proper wine should be. The exciting thing about American made wine and the process of creating designations is that it's an open book, it's no doubt where many parts of the Old World were back in the time of Columella or the Dukes of Burgundy, but we're better equipped and there are seemingly more ways and styles to make grape-based wines providing a patchwork to choose from.
Recently, say in the past fifteen years I would guess, this subconscious mindset has been changing, just search a little on the internet and you'll find websites dedicated to AVAs and unsung areas of the wine world we've never considered, let alone heard of, but it's still quite prevalent. I'm not quick to disregard these unsung and unheard of AVAs, I feel that if you hold even the lowest wrung Bordeaux beside a wine from -you pick the place- is it really fair to say that that wine isn't fitting into the same essential category: made with the same technology, perhaps the same varietals, passion, maybe it's small batch, perhaps entirely naturally made wine without sulfates because in truth it's most likely a serviceable wine. With this in mind I think one of my next sub-projects will have to be tasting a Sangiovese from a place like North Carolina or Texas against a Chianti and see what's going on there, and though it won't be a truly blind tasting (though with my finicky memory I could probably brown bag both bottles and leave them for a week to forget which is which) I think I'm pretty good at analyzing a wine for it's components and being pretty honest in my assessment.
I've had plenty of wines from the Old World that I would consider sub par or faulty - I mean, how far can one push their senses to accept a wine whose flavor profile might be on the extremes, when does it become truly poorly made rather than ceding a great first try and extrapolating something redeeming in the wine for the next vintage? If it's bad or abrasive, then it's bad or abrasive. There is a fine line between something that is actually poorly made and something that exhibits an extreme flavor profile outside of one's taste preferences and reveals it's instability not soon after - all wine is fallible, all human hands are fallible. Perhaps this tangent is really the beginning of a more fleshed out entry for a later time, so ...to be continued...
Whew... sorry for the run on...
On a separate note, the current wine label design and composition is wonderful, even with the gold at top and bottom (a nautical or map reference?) and in the grape-compass, it works well - reflective materials are a marketing ploy to catch the eye, when shiny accents are done poorly it can look like someone vomited all over the bottle. I don't know what the previous label looked like but having the impression of an aged map of Long Island as a background, something reminiscent of the night sky with a few clouds under soft moonlight, and the gold compass with a bunch of grapes at the center works well. I'm also a huge fan of both matte and textured labels and of pushing all non-essential information (i.e. government warning, website, and personal notes) off to the side. The advantage to this is having fewer fonts to balance against one another, which can be confusing and daunting let alone disorientating when it comes to more complicated labels (I'm talking to you Germany!). In the end this frees up space to compose the more visually appealing aspects that will more likely convince us to purchase that wine; easily read and understood while being catchy will move a label, we all just hope the wine behind it lives up to it.
Winery: The Peconic Bay Winery by Paul and Ursula Lowerre with winemaker Greg Gove; http://www.peconicbaywinery.com/
PoP: Warehouse Wines & Spirits: $12.99 (originally $19.99)