In the mid-1860s, grapevines in southeastern France inexplicably began to wither and die. Jules-Émile Planchon, a botanist from Montpellier, was sent to investigate. He discovered that the vine roots were covered in microscopic yellow insects. What they were and where they had come from was a mystery. The infestation advanced with the relentlessness of an invading army and within a few years had spread across Europe, from Portugal to the Crimea. The wine industry was on the brink of disaster. The French government offered a prize of three hundred thousand gold francs for a remedy. Planchon believed he had the answer and set out to prove it. Gripping and intoxicating, The Botanist and the Vintner brings to life one of the most significant, though little-known, events in the history of wine.
Rotten: Reign of Terror Season 2, Ep 2
In the south of France, frustrated winegrowers go to extremes to stave off cheap imports from Spain and new competition from China. [more inside]
As wine connoisseurs know, Argentine wine was once famously bad. The grapes were overwatered, harvested in brutal heat, fermented in enormous cement pools, aged in antiquated oak vats, and then watered down and adulterated. The final product was industrial plonk, drinkable only on ice. But in 2001, a Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec blend beat Napa and Bordeaux’s finest in a blind taste test. Suddenly, Argentina emerged as a premier wine region with a champion varietal―what best-selling author Benjamin Wallace calls “the humble Malbec.” How did this happen? [more inside]
In search of a mysterious wine he once tasted in a hotel room minibar, journalist Kevin Begos travels along the original wine routes—from the Caucasus Mountains, where wine grapes were first domesticated eight thousand years ago, crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, and then America—and unearths a whole world of forgotten grapes, each with distinctive tastes and aromas. We meet the scientists who are decoding the DNA of wine grapes, and the historians who are searching for ancient vineyards and the flavors cultivated there. Begos discovers wines that go far beyond the bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot found in most stores and restaurants, and he offers suggestions for wines that are at once ancient and new.
There are nearly 1,400 known varieties of wine grapes in the world—from altesse to zierfandler—but 80 percent of the wine we drink is made from only 20 grapes. In Godforsaken Grapes, Jason Wilson looks at how that came to be and embarks on a journey to discover what we miss. Stemming from his own growing obsession, Wilson moves far beyond the “noble grapes,” hunting down obscure and underappreciated wines from Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, France, Italy, the United States, and beyond. In the process, he looks at why these wines fell out of favor (or never gained it in the first place), what it means to be obscure, and how geopolitics, economics, and fashion have changed what we drink. A combination of travel memoir and epicurean adventure, Godforsaken Grapes is an entertaining love letter to wine.
Few gain entry to the privileged world of ultrafine wines, where billionaires flock to exclusive auction houses to vie for the scarce surviving bottles from truly legendary years. But Rudy Kurniawan, an unknown twenty-something from Indonesia, was blessed with two gifts that opened doors: a virtuoso palate for wine tasting, and access to a seemingly limitless (if mysterious) supply of the world’s most coveted wines. After bursting onto the scene in 2002, Kurniawan quickly became the leading purveyor of rare wines to the American elite. But in April 2008, his lots of Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis red burgundy—dating as far back as 1945—were abruptly pulled from auction. The problem? The winemaker was certain that this particular burgundy was first produced only in 1982... [more inside]
On October 12, 2005, a massive fire broke out in the Wines Central wine warehouse in Vallejo, California. Within hours, the flames had destroyed 4.5 million bottles of California's finest wine worth more than $250 million, making it the largest destruction of wine in history. The fire had been deliberately set by a passionate oenophile named Mark Anderson, a skilled con man and thief with storage space at the warehouse who needed to cover his tracks. [more inside]
Benjamen and Mathilde continue exploring the intersection between France and China over wine. In this installment they traverse China talking with winemakers, wine enthusiasts and drinkers to find out what the emerging middle class of China, one of the most powerful forces on Earth, wants from a bottle of wine. Plus Your host is forced to defend his working methods and his beliefs in the art of living well. [more inside]
The voice of the ToE episode announcer revealed! (her name is Mathilde) and she joins our host for this two part series about the intersection between France and China and wine. The story of the red obsession of Wealthy Chinese has been told many times, but what is going to happen when China’s elusive emerging middle class gets wine fever? Can wine transmit cultural values? Can it transcend consumerism? In this installment Benjamen and Mathilde traverse France to discover this vino nouvelle vague. [more inside]
Listeners, thank you so much for contributing your attention, questions and eartime to us this year. What a year it has been! Relisten to the highlights – and lowlights, including such annual delights as the Parade of Melancholy Calls and the blooper reel – in The Best of Answer Me This! 2014. [more inside]