Spit Happens # 60 -Still Learning

Every so often a book comes along that challenges my preconceived notions about wine. Between the Vines by Terry Theise is just the book to do that. First of all who the heck is Terry Theise ? Terry is a fellow who spends a ton of time in Germany, Austria and Champagne hunting down wines of distinction. I first met him at a Society of Wine Educators Conference in Vancouver about 16 years ago . I signed up for a tasting he was offering on the Wines of Austria , specifically Gruner Vetliner. I had vague knowledge of the grape but little of it was ending up in Canada . It was however the darling of all the hip Sommeliers from the East and West Coast of America at the time. Looking back on it this was largely due to the efforts of Terry and his American business associates Michael and Harmon Skurnik . I went ( along with John Clerides from Marquis Wine Cellars ) with no preconceived notions about the wines but a bit of dread as it was scheduled to be a 2 ½ hour tasting and I thought it would be too long to sit and might be a bit esoteric for our store. I couldn’t have been more surprised when the tasting ended and I still wanted more. More information and more wine. Terry was engaging and erudite with great wines to try and great insight as to why these wines deserved more attention. John paid a great deal of attention to Terry and subsequently brought in a number of wines from the Austrian portfolio that Terry “discovered” . He also brought in some great Champagnes that Terry found as well but that is another story. Fast forward to 2010 and Terry published a book called Reading Between the Wines ISBN 978-0-520-26533-2. I bought the book when it came out and read it in a single sitting, then filed it away. On a recent trip I pulled the book out of my “ pile o’ wine books to read it again”. This time around my brain was more receptive to the message he was eloquently attempting to explain. All my wine life I have been a “points” guy. Numbers from Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and other writers mattered to me more than I’m willing to admit. I was seduced by the big points and the experience of drinking them. The problem is the points arrive from a process of tasting that values amplitude and concentration more than elegance and finesse. The big points wines stand out in a crowd much the same way Shaquille O’neal would stand out in a kindergarten class. That also means they will stand out in a flight of other wines that might have more delicacy and tact. Terry thinks we have it wrong and he has a manifesto of sorts that explains his criteria for wine he values the most when selecting wines.

  • Clarity
  • Distinctiveness
  • Grace
  • Balance
  • Deliciousness
  • Complexity
  • Modesty
  • Persistence
  • Paradox

I’m pretty comfortable in saying there are few writers that consider Grace ,Modesty or Paradox when giving a wine a 100 points. I would put forward the theory that for the most part writers ascribe density, extract/concentration and richness over any of Terry’s criteria. It’s possible for both points of view to exist but I’m starting to think that I spent a career ascribing a level of quality to wines that was undeserved. Think about those quiet but moving novelists that don’t make the Pulitzer Prize list, think about the singer at your local cafe you love to listen to that never gets any airplay for the songs they write. Is their effort and craft any less deserving of your attention? I think not. Wine has a different role in my life now. I don’t want it to shout at me, I want it to form an integral point of my meal but not dominate the conversation or the effort expended to make a great meal.


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Remember Spit Happens, tell your friends, drink great wine and eat great food. Cheers.

David Lancelot