top of page



Political gadfly James Carville teaches at LSU, and on one celebratory occasion he decided to demonstrate for his class the proper method for opening a bottle of sparkling wine. The cork shouldn't pop out, he told them; it should emerge with a little exhale, and sound like “The sigh of a contended woman.” That’s an old French trope, and a fairly vivid image.

You know what happened next. A female student in his class complained to the Dean, and Carville dealt with the consequences. Perhaps he should have called the sound of the exiting cork “Like a silent fart,” which presumably would have offended no one.

I’m going to offer what appear like mutually exclusive positions here. One is that we should adapt the language to say something like “A sigh of contentment,” which would do the job adequately. It’s a small loss of color but that’s less important than to avoid offending someone gratuitously. That’s what I myself would do.

But I wish I didn’t have to. When does this all stop? I have an image of people sniffing at the air to identify something, anything that could irritate their delicate sensibilities. Again, I will adapt, because it seems ridiculous to take some high moral stand over the value of giving offense.

But you know what? Enough already. The choice I make is because someone has to not be fatuous so it might as well be me. But come on; if that silly little trope offends you, you are a terribly fortunate person, to have the luxury of taking offense at such a trivial thing.


I worked a full two weeks on these, and good that I did. Johannes Selbach agrees with me that a curious facet of his ‘22s is the degree to which they improve once opened, and often for many days.  Only one of the wines was diminished in any way, and I had them open for 7-10 days. Nearly all of them got better, usually topping out at day-5 and holding steady thereafter. With only two exceptions, all of them were attractive freshly opened, but as a taster I have to register and report on the phenomenon, though it may not be pertinent to you guys.

A full week after the first flight of bottles was opened, we sat to drink the final couple inches, while dinner was cooking. It was the group of GGs, and it was the best they had tasted, to the point I almost wanted to update my notes. Considering my hesitations over the ’22 vintage – some of which you’ll see below -  this was a richly beautiful group of wines. This surprises me and also doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known the wines for nearly four decades, and they’re always lovely. And yet, each time they are lovely yet again it’s always a delightful shock.

You will discern a terseness in my notes for the Auslese group. This is my fault, not the wines’. As I’ve gotten older I have a diminished thirst for the very sweet. The five wines were classic Selbach Ausleses, not sugary, vinous rather than liquerous, with energy beneath the botrytis, especially in the remarkable 1-star Zeltinger Sonnenuhr. If I seem to be damning with faint praise, it’s entirely because of my ennui with the entire category. Selbach’s wines remain as they’ve always been: classic and noble and not trilling for “scores.”

Last night we roasted a pork shoulder with a miso-glaze (involving blackcurrant in some form mysterious to me) and served it with sliced parsnips we’d sauteed to sweetness. We wanted “sweet” food to have with the unconsumed Spätleses still in the cellar. I knew it would work, and it did. Afterward my wife asked to taste a few of the Ausleses, and I joined her, and was shocked at how much I liked those wines. Having thought I’d grown “cool” to the category, and having been, let’s say, modest in my enthusiasm for them when I tasted them, it was jolting to drink them with such thirst and appreciation. I think you need to know this, and I think I need to remember it.

I’ve been mulling over the production structure of estates like this one, and how misaligned they are with (what I’ll call) the pragmatic “market.” A German estate of this size might well make over 40 different wines and many of them in small amounts. This attention to specificity should be catnip for the wine lover, but over the years the prevailing complaint is that the whole thing is unwieldy. This is merely the consequence of them giving us what we say we want – “small-batch” and all that.  “Focus on terroir” and that stuff. “Distinctiveness” and associated fol-de-rol. So why, when we actually get it, do we kvetch about it?

Sensible business practices would warrant the production of a few wines in larger quantities at “attractive” price-points. These are variously known as “cash cows” or “container stuffers” and they make all the sense in the world. The wines Selbach offers in this category are as good as this “category” ever gets. In a perfect world, they would lead the drinker seamlessly into the more “exclusive” and individual wines, but what often seems to happen is, they make it too easy to ignore the fussy higher categories because it is just so tempting to rely on the affordable, available and predictable, especially if the name value is reassuring.

I don’t think there’s a way to square this circle. There are work-arounds, e.g., the marketing of the “GG” category as a group, so that Selbach-GG becomes in effect a single “item” within which one can select his favorite variation(s). But in general you have to concede that it’s all a lot of work, for them, for their agents, for us. It works well enough, but most businesspeople looking at it from outside would insist there has to be a better way. I’m here to insist otherwise. There is in fact no better way, if we are going to preserve the most engaging, fascinating and precious things about fine wine. I’ve sometimes thought that most efforts to have things both ways end up doing collateral damage.  And finally, if these complications annoy us, it is because we do not care enough.

We are not required to care, obviously. But if we think of ourselves as wine lovers and we don’t care about the very thing that makes wine worth loving, then we’d do well to drop the pose.


168 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All


Before starting in on the samples, I had a quick look at a few 2023’s last week, not enough to offer a judgment but enough to offer a speculation. In Germany, based on samples from Dönnhoff and Selbac

1 коментар

25 бер.

Despite their sustained excellence, Selbach isn’t fashionable amongst the “it has to hurt my teeth” acidity drinkers (I hesitate to even refer to them as wine drinkers). In darker moments I believe that of Johannes were to make 40 separate bottlings, all Kabinett Trocken and Kabinett Feinherb he would be hard pressed to save a single bottle for himself.

bottom of page