Wine Notes from Terry Theise: A Unique Frustration in Wine

Editor's Note: You may know wine importer Terry Theise from his recent book, Reading Between the Wines. Or you may know him from seeing his name on the back of a bottle. Or you may not know him yet, in which case you're in for a treat. We invited Terry to share occasional wine musings with us; here's the first edition.


[Photo: University of California Press]

There is a unique frustration sometimes in wine. You buy a random bottle somewhere; it seemed interesting at the time, but it's an incidental. Some day you'll open it and find out how it is, or was. If it's disappointing, that's OK. You had no expectations. If it's good, then it's good. But if it's exceptional, it ambushes you, and all the time you're fascinated and blown away you know you'll never have that wine again. And you lost the pleasure of anticipation. So you're amazed at the suddenly amazing wine, and the moment wasn't prepared for.

The wine prompting this bemused mood is something that really shouldn't have been this good. I bought it—a 2006 Muscat Kirchberg Grand Cru, from a grower named Robert Faller, in Ribeauuvillé—because I'm a hopeless freak for Muscat, and my curiosity won over. The bottle doesn't promise much; the label looks like his 8-year-old designed it on a PC. And it's an '06, after all, the weird difficult vintage. Overripe, botrytisey.

Oh, but the wine! It joins a small select family of Muscats that show fervent terroir (and which always make you think of Riesling), such as Boxler's Brand, Burn's Goldert (not to mention the hors-classe ZH), and Sorg's Pfersigberg. Maybe it's a little more emphatic, more blatant than a Riesling would be, but it's far from impossible to imagine the wine IS a wacked out sort of Riesling. When we have such flights of imagination it shows how ineluctably we conflate the idea of "terroir" with the fact of Riesling, but that's a subject for another day.

Right now there's this absolutely wonderful Muscat. How on earth was it made in a year like '06? Steely-clean, yet ripe and full (13% alc) and showing no signs of having been "picked before the rains," i.e., not quite ripe. If I HAD to pile up the associations, I'd be listing an ANGRY fennel, a root beer with an attitude, tarragon you wish you'd used less of, green apple and pickled ginger. So limey you peer at the rim of the glass looking for salt. The wine isn't subtle, yet it's noble. The English writers used to talk about "cut," but this is like a sushi knife waved around by some drunken cook: "Oh, was that your finger? Oops!"

I'll return to M. Faller in March 2011, and whatever vintage of Muscat Kirchberg he's selling, I'll buy it. A lot of it. You can never have too many wines like this in your life—the uncanny ones, the inexplicably superb ones. I'll look forward to it next time, and maybe give it the ceremony it asks for, or that I think it deserves. But who knows what will happen? Still, this bottle wants me to pause at least long enough to make sure I remember it, how it stole upon me with its eerie green sizzle.

A lot of words, maybe, for the quotidian Muscat. Or so you suppose. In fact a cunning incisive Muscat just slams into your senses, and reminds you that your soul isn't only accessed by finesse and subtlety. Sometimes you just get whomped. And I'm enjoying being whomped by this articulate brute, scribbling all over the page of my palate with a fine-point pen.