Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Wherever you are, the sun might finally be emerging.

In my Bay Area, there's even been more darkness and wetness than in the whole of the UK Parliament over the last two years.

So I thought I'd choose this moment to offer another in my occasional series entitled Alcohol By Volume

The idea is to offer a counterpoint against the professional sippers -- those who can tell a wine is wonderful or execrable with just one supposedly subtle swill. 

They may be experts. They may also not be your normal human. 

Your normal human just wants a lovely wine, at not a painful price, that'll be a perfect companion all through dinner. 

Your normal business human wants to surprise clients or partners with their impeccable, unusual taste.

My constant search, therefore -- disclosure: I'm a Wine Ambassador at Honig Winery -- consists of not merely tasting wines but enjoying at least a glass, or sometimes even two, to see whether a wine can be at the very least a friend and, in a world of dreams, a long-term partner. 

Today, then, I present five wines that came out of nowhere and now reside permanently in my mouth and memory as guests to invite to dinner. 

They're from several parts of the world and, if you can get hold of them, I hope they can be good companions for you, too.

The wines of João Barbosa appeared on my Lisbon dinner table one night and made me stop talking for a while. Yes, they've won lots of awards. Despite that, they're the sort of wines that aren't expensive -- they start at 8 Euros a bottle -- yet taste as if they were made by surgeons who studied art. After a few sips of the red Ninfa 2009, I stared at the glass. It stared right back. We looked at each other for a while, me wondering how the wine could be both smooth and emphatic and it, I suspect, beginning to giggle at how surprised I looked.

This was a curious experience. My wife and I wafted through the doors of this winery in the Alentejo town of Estremoz, Portugal because, well, we saw it from the road. We were immediately invited to join a tour. Which was fascinating, but didn't involve actually tasting any wine. When we (politely) asked if we could taste some, we were (very politely) told that wasn't possible as there was another large group arriving. What to do? We bought a couple of different bottles, somewhat perturbed because Tiago Cabaço sells a wine called Blog. We took the Vinhas Velhas Branco wine back to the marvelous Raízes restaurant in Lisbon and tasted it with owner -- and secretly astute sommelier -- Marco Silva. The Vinhas Velhas white stood out like a fine tattoo on the Queen of England's face. It pretended to be light but, after several sips, here came a fresh subtlety I'd last seen when a priest pulled out his MC Hammer moves. We drank it with cheese and chorizo, with fish and meat. It never felt out of place. 

Occasionally, I get invited to industry events where dozens, if not hundreds of wine producers from all over the world gather, smile and plead for greater distribution. This is where sipping is mandatory. Some of the pours are generous. Some of the faces are ravenous. This is not a perfect blend. Still, after quite some sipping and a certain amount of spitting, I stumbled onto this strangely titled wine. Many -- including me -- think of Carménère as a blending grape, if they think of it at all. Yet while Folatre's commercial director Jorge Matthei regaled me with tales of how they'd been able to use the Jackie'O name, I confess I did more than sip. This looked like a dark beast, yet drank like an emissary from peaceful shores. The winery suggests you pair it with pasta, white meat, duck a l'orange and sweet-and-sour dishes. I had it with all the finger food available that night and it worked rather beautifully.

Where else do you find a Croatian wine that stuns you into existential contemplation than in a Mexican restaurant? There I was in San Francisco's Cala restaurant when the Debit Blend offered itself by the glass. Again, not an expensive wine. Some put it at $15 a bottle. Yet this was as distinctively idiosyncratic a glass as I've tasted in years. So much so that my wife took a sip and ordered a glass too. The Debit grape isn't, as I'd fancifully imagined, a bank-owned concoction for which you have to pay heavily. Instead, it's a Dalmatian thing that may or may not have originated in Italy. (The Croatians say not, naturally.) Croatian legend has it that local wine growers paid Napoleon's taxes with these grapes. Hence, Debit. I bought it on credit. I'm looking for more.

5. Chateau Musar 2004, Lebanon.

I was sitting at the Purple Pig in Chicago -- I pause for your descriptive humor -- a few years ago and it called to me. I'd never drunk Lebanese wine before. The Pig people were charging a pretty dollar, even for a glass. After a few mouthfuls, I was no longer in a trough but in a deserted room, garlanded by wood panels and a distant, light French accent. Since then, I've seen various Musar wines in British supermarkets and restaurant wine lists. Four years ago, I was moved by the news that Serge Hochar, the man who managed to make wonderful Musar wine while his country spent 15 years at war, had died. He'd once offered one of the most stirring quotes about wine I've ever heard: "I know nothing about wine. I know how to make wine, but I know nothing about wine, and each day I discover that I know less." A couple of weeks ago, I was in a new, elevated San Francisco wine bar called Ungrafted. A half-bottle of 2004 Musar called out. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan worked their way quickly into my eyes and offered a salute to someone truly extraordinary. See if that happens to you too. 

Published on: Apr 7, 2019
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