David Schildknecht

  • Fluid boundaries

    Philosophy, claimed Aristotle, begins in wonder. The same holds true for love of wine. No vinous experience, for instance, is more profound or seminal than one that prompts the thought, “How could this come from grapes?” A disparate clutch of wines recently tasted aroused wonder of quite a different sort, revealing some widely held distinctions to be as fluid and inscrutable as the wines that called them into question.

  • See-saws and sweet spots

    Many fundamental wine puzzles appear capable of-in fact, demand-a one-word answer: balance. How to characterize vinous beauty in the face of myriad technical details and descriptors; or viticultural excellence amid so many variables; that combination of chemical or sensorial details that makes for a profoundly ageworthy wine? To resolve such tricky questions, we fall back on “balance,” not recognizing how slippery is this concept itself. About balance it might be said, as American Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote of pornography, that it is indefinable “but I know it when I see it.” The picture most people see (and succumb to) is that of a see-saw, and its deceptive influence is so pervasive that one could dub this the “fixed fulcrum fallacy.”

  • Levity’s elusive allure

    Alcohol features increasingly in news and discussions of wine. Growers lament a trend toward accumulation of must weight outpacing arrival of felicitous flavors, even in self-described “cool climate” regions. Sugar-that age-old proxy for ripeness -is proving an unreliable, even false friend. Consumers, restaurateurs, and merchants plead for wines that aren’t overly alcoholic. One can pine for bygone days or, more usefully, attempt to discern and disentangle the climatic, plant physiological, viticultural, vinificatory, and sociological roots of rising alcohol. But it’s a statistical fact that wines of a mere 13% alcohol, let alone less, represent a small, shrinking minority.

  • Dionysus Unbound

    For two decades, wine growers seemed in thrall to the sacré numéro 225-or 228, if Burgundian tradition, not Bordelaise, dictated the size of one’s barriques, the vessels not just of choice but virtually the touchstone of quality. Few the regions whose ambitious growers did not think that wine from their best sites deserved to be elevated in-and ostensibly by- French oak barriques, preferably new.

  • Slow Wine

    “it really doesn’t take much to make wine à l’ancienne,” says Mario Scheuermann, “except just this: time.” While the world seems bound to an unbendable Rule of Acceleration, a few wine growers think they must break with the present and produce what one might call “slow wines.” Their common denominator is late bottling.

  • The Next Big Thing

    “I hear the next big thing will be...” Fill in the blanks with your cépage of choice. One hears such words frequently, earnestly uttered by grape growers in California-their livelihood, after all, is at stake.

  • A Necessity of Life

    “Good wine is a necessity of life for me.” So wrote the United States’ third president in a letter. Wine a necessity? Those are strong words, coming from a pen better known to the author’s countrymen for having inscribed certain “truths we hold to be self evident.” Admittedly, Thomas Jefferson was a wine geek before his time-at a time when Americans drank beer and whisky, and before anyone outside of Bordeaux other than he had proffered a list of premiers crus classés. A certain snobbism might therefore have been at the root of his remark. But the contexts of this letter and his life render that rather unlikely.

  • False Vinous Dichotomies

    We winemakers, writers, and wine lovers worldwide succumb much too easily to the allure of a slogan or of bogus choices, so much so that often the landscape of wine discourse appears little less heated, smoke-filled, or obfuscatory than that of politics, with all its bellicose means. Examples abound-not just in PR statements from wineries or Internet fora, but across a wide spectrum of publications, to say nothing of what one hears at wine shows, in wine shops, or in restaurants. The favorite weapon in wine rhetoric’s arsenal is the spurious dilemma, the ill-defined alternative that cannot withstand closer inspection.

  • Down to Earth

    Too-frequent misunderstanding and mistrust stands between self-styled empiricists and those of us who champion “terroir.” “Contrary to the musings of wine writers,” they instruct us (in the words of veteran viticulturalist Mark Greenspan), “soil serves primarily […] to supply water and oxygen to the grapevine, to provide mineral nutrition […] and to provide anchorage […]. That is all. [T]here are no flavor or aroma compounds that originate in the soil.” And yet, they hasten to “concede that there are some soils that are better than others” for wine growing.

  • Commodity or contingency?

    An increasingly fervent band of chefs and home cooks insists on serving what’s in season in one’s region. Seasonal fruits or vegetables no doubt have physical and chemical makeups distinctive from those of the same species grown far away (or under glass, or hydroponically) or out of season. Leaving aside timing and terroir, their genes and modes of cultivation probably are distinct. But suppose there were no quantifiable and no intrinsic difference. Savoring fruits “in season” could still enhance their taste and our appreciation simply because, by limiting our choices, by subjecting ourselves to seasonal variation, we sharpen our awareness of the edible world’s contingency and our appreciation of its gifts.