A Terrible Way to Die; or: A Great Way to Make Wine
“While he lay raving, bound to the camel, they dug a well-like pit, and when they had finished they lifted him off, still trussed tightly, and stood him in it. Then they filled the space around his body with sand and stones, until only his head remained above the earth’s surface. In the faint light of the new moon his shaved pate without it’s turban looked rather like a rock. And still he pleaded with them, calling upon Allah and Sidi Ahmed Ben Moussa to witness his innonence. But he may have been singing a song for all the attention they paid to his words. Presently they set off for Tessalit; in no time they were out of of hearing.
When they had gone the Moungari fell silent, to wait through the cold hours for the sun that would bring the first warmth, then heat, thirst, fire, vision. The next night he did not know where he was, did not feel the cold. The wind blew dust along the ground into his mouth as he sang.”
“The Delicate Prey”
Paul Bowles, 1950
So began the second meeting of the OWGS (Orange Wine Gathering Society), convened on the night of thursday, October 29th by sommelier Levi Dalton at his restaurant, Convivio in New York. one may wonder, of course, what burying someone up to their neck in sand at a tony New York establishment has to with wine? Well the answer is to demonstrate anfora winemaking.
If you don’t already know anfora are clay pots with a (generally) wide body and a thin neck. In ancient times these were used primarily for ease of transporting all manner of goods, from olive oil to fermented fish. Nowadays anfora are mostly relegated to being historical artifacts, but in the past few years they have been reclaimed by a small group of winemakers in Italy and Slovenia looking back into history for traditional methods of vinification as an alternative to ‘industrial” winemaking. Buried undergound up to their necks (now you’re getting it) these anfora allow for a long, slow ferment and maceration unlike anything else.
Now before you go and talk about the novelty of anachonism that seems inherent in the enterprise of making wine in something as seemingly quaint as anfora let me explain something to you. While anfora might seem novel, and hence of questionable value, they have a long history (some 5000+ years) of unbroken use in the country of Georgia, which served as the inspiration for the new generation of winemakers ready to throw off the yoke of convention. This is the proverbial “wine made like their grandfathers made” that everybody keeps talking about, except it was also made by their grandfathers father and their grandfather’s grandfather and so on and so forth until we get to the very first wines ever made (87 points Parker, “young and shrill”).
So the stage is set now, a man is buried up to his neck in sand (why not a real anfora? as you can see above, they are much too large for demonstration purposes) and the first wine is poured. A Vodopivec 2005 Vitovska “Orange Stripe.” An all star cast has shown up for the proceedings including Detroits finest Putnam Weekley and Phillip cooley of Slows Barbecue, author Alice Feiring, winemaker Eric Texier and his lovely wife Laurence, some wino from the Carolinas, Mike Steinberger and the entire east coast contigent of WineDisorder.
The night went on. Castello di Lispida 2005 Amphora was poured. Food was served and we marvelled at the number of glasses that the wait staff managed to fit on the table. Nuclear reactors and French energy policy were discussed (did you know Eric Texier was nuclear scientist?).
Verticals of Josko Gravner “anfora” and “breg” were brought out. things got interesting at this point. Orange wine (white wine with extended skin maceration, one characteristic shared by all the anfora wines) is occasionally accused of reducing terroir, variety, and vintage characteristics. Not so in this case, as each bottle showed very distinctly, some for the better, some for the worse. Discussions arose as to the specifics in each wine. Where had the anfora played a role? Was it marked by this? How much impact does this type of vinification have on the wines? Things were left undecided which is a good place to be. Even Texier had no concrete statements to this effect. More time was needed, more wines were needed to be opened.
Then the reds came out. 2006 and 2005 COS “Pithos” and 2006 Guttarolo “Anfora” Primitivo and 2007 Guttarolo “Anfora” Primitivo. The COS was revelation for me. It was remarkably fresh and bright for a wine that had shown reduced and boring in previous tastings for me. Remind me to give this wine more air time when i open it next. The Guttarolo duo was rustic and funky. VLM broke a glass and it was time to go.
Levi Dalton put together a hell of an event and should be commended. Who else puts together a wine list as esoteric and focused as him, works a starred restaurant, and still has time to organize events like these. In addition he buried a man alive for educational purposes, and let VLM dine at his establishment when no one would have.
Notes: No one was actually buried alive. Reading Paul Bowles has this effect.
I saw the Fuck Buttons live in New York. Worth checking out.
Drink more Equipo Navazos sherry. i’ll be posting about them soon.