Welcome to The Grapevine! In this new weekly feature, we'll be asking our favorite experts the questions that really matter: how they fell in love with wine, what wine trend they'd love to see end, and what they'll be drinking on their deathbed.
Jeff Lefevere, founder and editor of the award-winning site Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto, removes the velvet rope that often closes off the subject of wine. No friend to the wine snob, Lefevere's writing is accessible but never simplistic; every post offers intelligent insight into the wine business or culture as a whole.
1.) Which wine first won your heart?It was actually a wine from a garagiste winemaker from California about 15 years ago. I think the winemakers name was “Dave.” It was a Sonoma “mutt” red blend, and had no label on it. A friend brought it out on a visit and we drank it in my living room catching up before enjoying a really fabulous fritto misto di mare at an Italian joint down the road. The wine itself was very good, but it was the combination of time, place, and the warmth of the situation that really flipped the switch for me and got me thinking that, yes, this is a good way to live life.
And, I’m pretty sure Dave has no idea how profound of an impact he had on me.
2.) If you could have an endless supply of just one bottle, what would it be?The expected answer here would be something French to show off my sophistication, maybe a Puligny-Montrachet. But, truthfully I’d have to go with an Inniskillin icewine. I’m so fickle and ever-evolving when it comes to wine and my palate that the only thing I could never get enough of and I don’t anticipate ever tiring of is an excellent icewine. It wouldn’t matter what I eat as long as I have dessert … or the dessert wine.
3.) What would you pour for someone who swears they don't like wine?In my experience, when somebody says they don’t like wine, the diagnosis is they don’t like the bite of tannins in reds and they have a “sweet” palate that needs to be developed. I’d go with an off-dry Riesling, always a good gateway wine. The Chateau St. Michelle Eroica Riesling is perennially excellent. I’ve never heard any guest say anything other than, “I love it.”
4.) If you could settle in any major wine region, which would it be (and why)?I have this ongoing fantasy where I live off the grid and off the beaten path. I’d still need internet access and American comforts, though. Access to the ocean would be a good deal, too. I’ll go with Mendocino and the NoCal hippies.
5.) What wine trend do you think (or hope) is almost over?Butter-bomb domestic chardonnays. I think we’re definitely seeing a growing movement to restraint and stainless steel on California chards. The Toad Hollow Unoaked Chardonnay is widely available and a screaming deal at around $10.
6.) What trends do you see on the horizon?I think 2010 and 2011 will break the current decade-long run of growth in the number of new U.S. wineries. It takes years to get a winery off the ground and at some point a new winery without a market to address becomes a not-so-great business decision. The economy will magnify that decision-making and some shakeout will thin the herd of existing wineries, as well. There’s just too much wine available, flowing through too few wine distributors with too few people to buy it all.
7.) What are the biggest values on the market today?I get asked this question a lot. My domestic go-to’s are always Castle Rock Pinot Noir and Bogle across their line-up. Consistently good wines. But, of course, international wines where the land doesn’t cost $55K an acre are finding really good economies of scale and making really good wine in the process. It’s no secret, but Chile is where Australia was 15 years ago. I don’t have a problem saying that Chile is categorically good across reds and whites and a tremendous value.
8.) What’s the biggest myth about wine you’d like to dispel?I have this ongoing wine pet peeve with glassware and wine pairings – the two biggest sinners in perpetuating wine elitism. I really like to drink wine paisano-style out of a tumbler. And, I don’t sweat what’s in my glass if it isn’t an empirical match to what I’m eating. Being open-minded to both of those things does wonders for taking the high-mindedness out of wine.
9.) What’s the best food and wine pairing you’ve ever had?Of course you ask this question next. I had a 2000 Cascina Morrassino Barbaresco in a tasting menu at Mario Batali’s Esca a few years back. It was paired with a roasted monkfish and a pan sauce. My toes curled in orgasmic pleasure – seriously it was the height of pleasure. If I could bottle that moment of pleasure I’d be a wealthy man, indeed.
10.) You're on your deathbed, and you can get one final glass: What’ll it be?Kosta Browne Pinot Noir. It’s one of the few domestic allocated wineries that I think is worth the money and I would want to save the ’47 Cheval for somebody who could brag about it for a while -- no sense wasting a bottle on a soon to be dead guy.›
Castle Rock Pinot Noir
A terrific value in Pinot Noir, fit for everyday drinking.
Kosta Browne Pinot Noir
The perfect Pinot for a full-on splurge: "It’s one of the few domestic allocated wineries that I think is worth the money."