Sunday, December 2, 2012

Introducing Frank Baldock, our new wine consultant

Today, I’m very pleased and excited to welcome a new member to A Man for All Seasonings. Frank Baldock is a long-time friend and colleague who has forgotten more about wine than I will ever know.

The creator of Wine Express, an absorbing quarterly newsletter (and website!) for those looking to expand their knowledge of wine and be alerted to some incredible bargains at the same time, Frank will bring his expertise to bear on some of the recipes posted here, as well as sharing his views on relevant topics of his own. Additionally, he is an excellent writer with a terrific sense of humor. Please visit his website for lots more information about some great new wines, as well as articles and stories about wine and the wine industry, even some recipes from his lovely wife, Lavell (who is a fantastic cook). With Frank’s help, you, too, can reach vino nirvana.

Welcome, Frank!

Q: Okay, Frank, so you’re a molto experienced oenophile. Tell us, what was your first experience with fermented grape juice?

A: In English pubs as an under-age teen tippler/explorer. The house wines weren’t great but it was still a buzz! My Dad grew his own grapes in his greenhouse but no wine dynasty ever emerged from that!

Q: When someone is about to pour: red or white?

A: A light, unoaked white at first, probably, as most reds are best served with food, especially the savory, bone-dry and often tannic reds of Europe, where red wines AND food are joined at the hip and rarely served separately.

Q: Your newsletter, Wine Express (not to mention your website, is packed with wines that tend for the most part to be affordable. Why is that?

A: To me, wine is food. That is, a daily pleasure that’s deliciously affordable. Everybody (‘fess up, now!) is searching for bargain wines that taste great. I’m there as your advance scout, taste-testing 5,000-6,000 wines a year on your behalf, and reporting back on the best. Tough job but someone, etc., etc…

Q: Staying on the same topic, do you feel high-end wines are over-priced?

A: Winemaking is a huge commercial gamble. The variables for success/disaster include frost, hail, hungry birds, beasts and bugs, an army of plant diseases, and rain on the eve of harvest, to name just a few. The top producers tend to restrict the number of grapes per vine for better concentration and flavor – at the expense of volume. The artisan wineries have fewer products to sell and so they need to charge more per bottle.

Some high-falutin’ prices, however, are simply part of the marketing package, the cachet, along with tiny availability. There are always collectors with very deep pockets who pursue cult wines. Remember, scarcity is the opiate of the super-rich!

A $100 wine is not 10 times as good as a $10 wine. It becomes geometrically more difficult to improve wines the higher you go on the quality scale. I’ve been lucky enough to taste wines once owned by Napoleon, but only because I was able to share the purchase cost with a bunch of other like-minded wine freaks!

Q: What wines or wine regions should people be on the lookout for?

A: Wines are traditional products of their place of origin and good ones taste exactly of that place. Typicity is important. Regions do evolve over time, however: for example, currently in Australia there’s a laudable move to making finer wines in small batches from great (cool climate) locations, as opposed to the industrial-scale production of el cheapo plonk that competes mostly on price.

Q: What wines are very popular now but perhaps don’t deserve to be?

A: People talk dry but drink sweet (or at least off-dry). California (not alone) has chosen to lead the way in big, high-alcohol reds and whites that have a fair amount of residual sugar (at the discretion of the winemaker).

The subtle sweetness flatters the wine for the first few sips but it palls with food and fails to refresh your palate during a meal.

As drinkers mature, they tend to prefer truly dry wines that showcase great food rather than smother it.

Q: What has been your best ever wine experience?

A: Too many to count, but they would include the mind-blowing introduction to my first really great red Burgundy, a Grands Echezeaux; a Chateau d’Yquem vertical tasting with the winemaker; dinners with Marie de Maigret, the Countess of Champagne, and Christian Pol Roger in Epernay; and swapping wine anecdotes over lunch with Princess Takamado in Japan.

Q: Your worst?

A: Rescuing the bruised ego of an enormously corpulent writer. He was spread-eagled like a bug after crushing his flimsy chair at a solemn gathering of the most prestigious (and suddenly hushed) chateaux owners of Bordeaux.

Q: Is there one wine of which you wished you had purchased several more bottles?

A: I’m always on the lookout for any wines of 1943, my birth year, to share at an anniversary dinner each year with close friends. I figure that if I keep buying more and more ’43s I’ll live forever!

Q: What is your absolute favorite food/wine match?

A: Chateau d’Yquem (or any great Sauternes) and foie gras.

Thank you, Frank! I’m sure I echo everyone when I say we’re looking forward to seeing your byline and contributions in the future here at AMFAS.

If you’re interested in receiving Wine Express four times a year at a very reasonable price, please click HERE for more information.

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