Thinned-Skinned – One Man’s Journey through the Wine Biz

A new series launches this week, poised to recapture a snapshot or two of this journey I’ve been on for more than two decades now.  A journey that began innocently enough at the hands of folks who somehow, even to this day, seemingly – as I read their never ending monthly newsletters – continue to carry that fire in their belly.  A journey that has filled my mind with enough knowledge that if I had it to do this over again, I would have followed the advice of others and gone to law school.  But to have followed the collegiate advice of some would never have seen these framed photos of my wife and precious 3-year old on the wall in front of me as I begin to collect my thoughts on this journey, now would it have?

This journey is entitled “Thinned-Skinned” for many reasons, not the least of which is a reference to my favorite grape type, the great Pinot Noir.  Today, however, it will not be my love for her that fills this particular portion of the journey.  The point of this particular recollection is to express the importance of individuality in wine; the importance of finding a sense of place, and just as important, a sense of time in our wines.  My journey through the wine business is filled with wines showcasing place and time, and those are the wines I wish to bring to your attention with this series.

My journey into the world of alcohol, long before my journey into the world of wine, didn’t begin at the feet of some expert; my family never practiced the art of wine with dinner, never thought to offer wine as gifts or toast the birth of a 5th child with the juice of the vine.  We were poor.  The kind of poor that local and national television shows are made of today.  So my first real taste of the booze was the old man’s Galiano; perhaps offering an explanation for my taste for all things licorice to this day.  As for the days of high school, when some will see their first initiation to wine with their seasoned and worldly parents, I was sneaking Michelob and Jack Daniels at a freshman pool party.  So much for training the boy’s palate…

But then there came the first real job I ever held.  A strong work ethic WAS instilled in me by the parents and so by the age of 16, I had joined the work force; first at a collection of various fast food gigs, later finding myself as a waiter at places where people actually sat down to dine.  So by the middle of my 17th year of age, experienced enough to know that there were wines on wines lists to be presented to seated diners before taking a dinner order, I applied for a job at one of the city’s most prominent restaurants.  I was proud and full of potential, having read a whole book on wine, and I was about to try my hand at the big leagues.  I applied to the Dallas Morning News’ 5-Star Awarded “Riviera” and was hired as an assistant to the Bar-Man / Cellar Keeper.  Little did I know, my palate was in for the ride of its life!

By the end of 1984, I had experienced wine tastings, mostly as a spectator, pouring wines and emptying spit buckets – only tasting from the bottoms of the bottles after everyone had gone home and the Bar-Man had taken we workers to the side for some education – that included the famous 1982 Bordeaux, verticals of Domaine de la Romanee Conti and more Grand Cru White Burgundy than I have ever personally witnessed in one sitting since.  The owner of Riviera, Bertolasi, had a real taste for the good life, and I was indeed at the right place at the right time.

And while those giddy days certainly catapulted my palate to a place few may ever experience, it wasn’t until Kermit Lynch came to town that I began my REAL journey.  The journey to discover the wines of real place and time, the wines produced in that “Thinned-Skinned” manner, first started with that magical event hosted by Lynch’s national rep.  These were wines with flavors I had yet to experience, wines with as of yet indescribable flavors, delicate layers that seemed to unfold over several hours.  These were not blocks of muscle, these were delicate, yet sublime; these had thin skins that allowed for the subtle nuances of their worlds to shine through.

Terroir is one of those scary words for the uninitiated.  It’s a word that folks hear and begin to have visions of filthy smelling wine and chunks of debris floating through their glass of Chenin Blanc.  Yet terroir is actually so much more than just the soil coming through in the wine.  Terroir is comprised of the rolling hills, or the lack of soil, or the round boulders, or the flowers, or the olive trees, or the collection of bushes called garrigue (the French word that describes those tumble-weed looking underbrushes growing wild throughout the Southern vineyards) that make up the vineyard’s profile.  And if the wine-maker avoids applying make-up to the wine through its upbringing into the bottle, if the wine-maker allows the wine to be “thin-skinned” as I call it, these nuances from the world around the vineyard find their way into the wine.  The terroir can shine through.

In the case of Kermit Lynch’s wines, the terroir SCREAMS through!  And this first entry, this first portion of our journey, is one of Kermit’s, well, screamers

2006 Telegramme Chateauneuf du Pape
Brunier
Grenache Dry Red Table Wine
Chateauneuf du Pape, Rhone Valley, France

Review by Cepage Noir
E*Newsletter Winter 2009
Rating: 91
“An Outstanding wine worth your serious attention that will impress and offer memorable drinking experiences.”
Drink: 2009 – 2015+

        “A medium ruby / garnet color meets the eye here; no gussy-ed up coloring going on here, just pure, expressive Grenache garnet; pure and gorgeous right to the rim.  The first whiff shows classic Grenache: plums and berries of the purest nature.  The fruit here is nuanced and married to that pastille nature that great CDPs offer when purely made.  As the wine breathes, the rosemary, thyme and other fresh garrigue nuances show through and around the fruit, holding hands with the fruit and walking side by side with mouth watering minerality.  On the palate, this wine is silky and ripe, with ripe fruit yet amazing complexity, buckets of minerality and bright acidity, yet the fruit and garrigue never find themselves out of place; everything is just so balanced.  This has the total CDP experience.  It is alluring, old school, and classically pure of fruit.  Intriguingly, this is already drinking quite deliciously, with just 30 minutes of air, yet the balance of fruit to acidity suggests a nice, slow, long evolution.  As the wine continues to rest in glass, that classic expensive cigar box nuance begins to evolve and we know this will be one to follow in the cellar.”
                — Cepage Noir

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