Champagne Floozy: [sham-PEYN FLOO-zee], noun: 1. A woman of the early days of Champagne, before her time, who decided it was ok for women to partake in the drinking of Champagne. 2. A lifelong foodie turned wine industry professional based in Durham, NC.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part One

     Every job has its annoyances.  I try not to complain too much. After all, I sell wine, which is pretty much an awesome thing that makes the world a better place. Shit, some people sell paper. Or tires. Or insurance.(shudders) There is, however, that one thing that makes every wine-lover-turned-retailer feel as though we are on a tireless crusade to right an egregious wrong: the idea that a single wine can be replicated ad infinitum, and that picking X bottle of Cabernet over Z bottle of Cabernet is like having a preference for Nikes versus Reeboks. At this point, I could run off into a preachy diatribe about small production, artisanal quality, and low yields, which is just the tip of the iceberg. But I will be succinct; it is the concept of branding.
     Americans, in particular, are very good at branding, and I would be a fool if I did not recognize and acknowledge that branding is a necessary and effective tool for every business, be it Gallo Wines or the Grocery Co-op down the street. Still, I am left scratching my head by the kind of consumer that says, well, if you don’t have Ferrari-Carrano Chardonnay, do you have their Fume Blanc? Don't get me wrong; there is a lot to love about working retail.  It is incredibly gratifying to introduce a delicious, affordable, artisanal wine to someone who is eager to soak up the knowledge and branch out, and fortunately, that is the kind of customer that we cultivate.
     One of the most astounding joys of wine is that of discovery.  Every day there is a new wine to be tasted, a new region to explore, a new vintage to assess, new producers and techniques and volumes of information to be learned, pondered, and hotly debated amongst ones’ peers. Even, or more accurately, especially the venerable Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers out there know that the subject is limitless.  It is not only a key factor to the fascination with wine, but also a strong indicator of the personality types that are drawn to it beyond the realm of casual consumption.
    In April I went overseas for the first time, as part of an industry group tour of the Chilean and Argentinian wineries represented by TGIC Importers, who took us on a whirlwind, wine-soaked extravaganza. It was a prize to their top sellers across the country, and most of the 19 professionals on the tour were representatives of large wholesalers, who had sold the qualifying amount over the course of a number of different accounts. There was only one other retailer, a buyer for a high-volume fine wine shop in California. Brian was a bona-fide wine geek, and as you might imagine, we were fast friends. His outright nerdiness for the subject matched my own, and the wholesalers were lost trying to follow conversations that often went something like this:

Brian Holowka, Certified Wine Geek

Brian: Name your favorite wine grapes no one knows about.

Me: Scheurebe. Arneis. Jacquere.

Brian: Ruché.

Me: Wait, what?

     We also had a number of conversations regarding the importers and hard to find European producers we have access to on our respective coasts, and commiserating about the treatment of wine as a brand (somewhat ironically, considering the good folks who footed the bill for the trip are very much in the wine-branding business). When we parted ways, we agreed to ship each other a mixed box of unique wines, which were most likely unavailable in each others’ markets.  The criteria for selection was small production, exceptional value (>$20/bottle) from quality driven producers.
   Which is pretty much my M.O. 
    So you can imagine my delight when this arrived, along with many other very cool wines in the wine-nerd box:

Brian: Ruche    Me: Wait, what?

     Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato was recently awarded DOCG status only in the last couple of years, after being awarded the more humble DOC status in 1987. From my research, which includes both internet, wine texts, and talking to knowledgable folks like the my friend Dave Erickson over at the Wine Mule, no one is really sure yet what Ruché is or where it comes from. It seems to have been growing in the Piemontese hills of Monferrato for quite some time now, perhaps generations, and while some people argue it is native, others argue it is some variation of a French import (I've heard grumblings of gamay).
     I'm completely stoked to open this bottle, as you can imagine. A totally new wine that I have never, in my close to a decade in the wine biz, had any experience with!  A new grape! A new DOCG! A new producer! Awesome! A new everything!
     Anew! Anew! Anew!

     I cannot help but hear that message. I cannot help but take that advice. Stay tuned.

     "Champagne Floozy: Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part Two" arrives next week.

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