Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of April 21

This week we've got an evenly split six pack - three whites and three reds. 

NV Rene Barbier Mediterranean White $6 (Received as a press sample)
Redemption!  The first pass at this wine revealed industrial chemicals and soap.  The PR firm representing this producer thought I might've had a bad bottle and sent a replacement.  Good move.  Fresh and lively, if simple, this thirst-quencher has a dash of zip and a finish that has a touch of dry Sherry-like character.  Smoking deal.

2010 Sergio Mottura Orvieto White $16
Bright, minerally, and bursting with as much energy as the dancing porcupine on the label.  Perfect wine to welcome the warmer weather with - and enough substance to hold its own with hearty summer fare.

2011 Mercer Canyons Chardonnay Columbia Valley $12
Flat and boring.  A mere shadow of its Cabernet sibling.

2011 Assobio Esporao Duoro Red $15
94 points!?  Sure, this is a pleasant, well made, full red with nothing to complain about - and some nice points. But, really, Wine Enthusiast, get real. $15 might be a smoking bargain on the QPR scale, but this won't be coming home with me again.

2008 Santa Rita Carmenere "Medalla Real" $20 (Received as a press sample)
Very, very well made.  Not a drop out of place in this poised, maturing Camenere.  It's got grip, tannins to make a Napa Cab jealous, and blue-core fruit that conjures smiles and another pour.  Pretty terrific. 

2011 Tikal Patriota Bonarda/Malbec Medoza $20
This wine was ricking in the 2006 vintage.  2008 and 2009, too.  2011?  Yup.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Inspiration and Reaffirmation In A Bottle

The wine business isn't that different from many others.  Sure, from the outside it has sex appeal and romance.  But for those working in this industry, the subject matter loses its sizzle before long.  The folks who make, market, and otherwise participate in the supply/demand cycles get numb to what initially attracted them to the trade and just go through the motions the same way everyone else chases a paycheck.  You can see this in the blank stares on the faces of retailers and distributors.  And it explains why sommeliers, who have more contact with more different wines than anyone else, seem to embrace wines more for obscurity than for pure drinking pleasure.

In the absence of something new and different it's hard to get excited about much.  In this respect, wine could just as easily be cars or widgets. 

The endeavor of writing is in no way immune to this saturation desensitization.  When much of the product you encounter is homogeneous, and when the events in the industry are recycled year in and year out, it's tough to get inspired.  So, writers are always looking for a fresh angle or subject, or anything noteworthy, really.

Thankfully, inspiration struck recently - and from the most unexpected of places: a $16 bottle of
Italian red.

Montresor is a winery in the Valpolicella region of northern Italy.  I'd never seen the Montresor label before the salesman at a Total Wine in Florida handed me the 2009 Montresor Valpolicella Ripasso 'Capitel della Crosara'.  It was intended as a back up wine to enjoy with my sister-in-law's delectable cavatelli fra diavolo, playing second string to a $50 Armani Amarone.

Both wines were lovely and complemented the meal perfectly.  What inspired, though, was the ripasso.  Every bit the wine the Amarone was, but at a third of the price, the Montresor was polished and lovely and graceful.  Empirical evidence is tough to argue with and there was plenty of Amarone left in the decanter when the last of the Montresor was drained.  A fine wine indeed.

Its taste was the spark that ignited an important reminder.  This wine didn't need a fresh angle or clever event to appreciate.  And, despite sharing the limelight with a heavyweight, it stood on its own.  It had been sitting anonymously on a shelf, devoid of critical acclaim and shelf-talkers, waiting for someone to take a chance on discovery.

What it reminded me is this: there are wines like this on shelves everywhere.  Discovering underappreciated wines is a lot like kissing frogs.  But this is the kind of exploration that keeps us pulling cork after cork after cork - and smiling the whole time.  That's what wine should be about: a good accompaniment to a fine meal, a fun discovery, and inspiration to explore more.

For extra credit, revisit this piece from a few years ago about how sommeliers' saturation desensitization impacts what consumers get access to (both good and bad) - it's worth the minute it'll take you to read. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Recycle Bin, Weel of April 7

Happy spring time (finally!) everybody!  Lots to celebrate this week in addition to the weather.  This weeek is heavy on Italians - and for good reason.  We venture to the spendy side to sample a couple of outstanding Brunellos that, when tasted side-by-side, are like choosing between a Ferrari Italia and a Lamborghini Superleggera.  On the more wallet-friendly side, we've got a super refined Chianti and round it out with a Pinot that drinks at twice its price.  Enjoy!

2008 Picini Villa Al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino Riserva $80(Received as a press sample)
While succulent and accessible now, at this young stage there is so much energy delivering so many different textures and flavors, it's like drinking from a sensory machine gun turned on full automatic.  Still, the window to this wine's stellar future is wide open and the view is promising.  Have a child born in 2008?  This would be a great wine to pick up and lay down.

2009 Picini Villa Al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino $60 (Received as a press sample)
The younger sibling to the riserva above is junior in pedigree alone.  Wow.  Grip, youth, and vigor coiled up like a cobra itching to strike.  This exciting Tasmanian Devil of a wine is spellbinding in its kalaedescope spectrum of exotic flavors.  Shows off intriguing smoke and spice aromatics while remaining true to Brunello's heritage.  Gets better and better as it unwinds in the glass.  Patience is scarce around this wine.  Delicious.  Outstanding.

2007 Agricola San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio $24
Don't let this stern-looking chap fool you, this is Chianti at its most elegant. Refined, substantive, and nary a stitch out of place, this example might just justify the meteoric rise in Chianti prices of late. 
2010 Pali Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast "Riviera" $18
This bottle sets the bar high for Pinot with intrigue and brooding sex appeal. That it rings in under the twenty spot makes it all the more remarkable. Smoky, darkly herbaceous, yet proud of fruit backbone. Sharing this was an exercise in will power and selflessness. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reflections After A Month of Not Buying Wine

In an effort to focus on a back log of samples/aging wine and cut back on expenses, March was a month of abstinence where wine shopping is concerned.  Note that this was simply an exercise in restraint of purchasing, not imbibing.  I mean, the wheels haven't fallen completely off the cart here. 

Interestingly, going a month without shopping for wine yielded some thoughts worth sharing.

First, this was not nearly the sacrifice I had anticipated.  In fact, it wasn't a bother at all.  For someone for whom the action is nearly habitual at this point in life, I sort of figured I'd find myself standing in a wine shop wondering how I got there, embarrassed for a moment before walking out empty-handed.  So, reflecting on the past month, my first question is, why was this so easy?
  1. The retail wine shopping experience has lost much of its romance.  Shops large and small are not the inviting places they used to be.  Increasingly staffed by stoned twenty-somethings who shrug in response to questions, or, worse, staffed by rushed, quota-driven sales people focused on, well, sales.  Shelves are cluttered, disorganized, and depressingly low on inventory.  Maybe this is why consumers who know what they want bypass the ambivalent experience and shop online.
  2. Casual observation of pricing suggests that #6 on my 10 Predictions For Wine in 2014 was correct. I've seen 20% increases on some bottles.  Is the wine getting that much better?  No, it is not.  It's the exact some wine that was on the shelf in February, for crying out loud.
  3. Consolidation of portfolio breadth continues.  That means fewer new offerings and fewer options period.
  4. Thanks to a business-minded approach to #3, there is a lot of crap being peddled out there.  
Taken together, one wonders whether there's anything compelling at all in the market these days.  But there is.  It's just a lot harder to find.  And that's what we'll keep doing here on this blog.

PS- First wine purchased in April?  2011 Columbia Crest Merlot H3.  There's a lot to be said for reliability.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Mar. 31

Just like the weather's been this past week - we've got some laughter and some tears in the line-up as we wrap up the first quarter.  Come one, spring, you can do it!

2011 Columbia Crest Chardonnay Columbia Valley $10
Hoping to strike gold twice in the $10-ish Columbia Valley Chards was too much to ask, I guess.  Where the Chateau St. Michelle rocks, this one rolls - downhill.  Cheap-tasting.  One dimensional and rife with thinly-veiled, big, distorted features that speak of over-manipluation and mass production.  Cloying residual sugar lingers like an uninvited house guest overstaying their welcome.

2011 Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton (Oregon) $32
Exotic spice spills from the glass piquing curiosity.  Actually looks like Pinot in the light.  Lighter-bodied than 99% of what's on shelves these days, but not the least bit shy on layered, acid-laced flavors that come at you fast.  Dried orange peel and fresh tarragon featured prominently on the mid palate.  Comforting?  No.  Exhilarating and thought-provoking?  Indeed.

2011 Browne Family Vineyards Columbia Valley "Tribute" $35
Luxurious, bombastic, vanilla-infused dark aromas overflow on uncorking. Despite the corpulence of the nose, the palate somehow manages finesse, unfolding gradually into a fine example of what Washington can do with Bordeaux blends.  Lacking in brute force and better for it. A superior product worth the money.  

2012 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $11
Need to jump start your summer-loving spirit? This is your wine.  Fresh, succulent flavors of ripe Grannysmith, sunshine, and new grass delivered in lip-smacking clarity. Terrific and a terrific value. Porch time here we come!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You Already Know All You Need To About Wine

Twitter is the perfect platform for people wage spats on.  And embarrass themselves.  It usually starts when someone antagonizes another, quoting them out of context.  The rebuttal - also quite public - typically reflects the sting of being criticized out in the open.  Then the powers of social media ignite and followers pile on to different sides, amplifying the volume of the argument and hijacking the tone to new lows.  It's ultimately humiliating, yet this process is repeated again and again - even in the wine world.  That this happened again this week in full view of the twittersphere is not in and of itself newsworthy, but the participants did make it noteworthy.

David White puts this into context and describes the he said/she said on his blog, Terroirist, so I won't repeat the sordid tale here, except to say that three of the most important wine critics were all at the center of this episode - which pretty much guarantees the pile-on effect.  Robert Parker, Jon Bonne (San Francisco Chronicle), and Eric Asimov (New York Times) all took part.  David's article is short and funny in a did he/she really say that? kind of way and worth a quick read for context.

Celebrating this buffoonery isn't a point worth making, but something stood out for its familiarity.  At some point along the way, Eric Asimov tweeted this eye-catching comment: "Liking not as important as understanding."  I don't think his tweet is an overarching statement about the wine experience at all.  Rather, I believe this was an attempt to defend the tasting, which apparently featured some less-than-spectacular wines which Lisa Perrotti-Brown, the new Editor in Chief of the Wine Advocate, described in stark, harsh terms.

Having attended the same conference in 2010, I can't say I'm terribly surprised.  That week served to affirm my opinion that, broadly speaking, Napa wines are vastly over-priced, lop-sided, blunt instruments made by self-congratulatory trustafarians.

But I digress.  At the risk of hypocritically taking a simple tweet out of context (and taking the very long way round to the point), Eric's comment struck a chord because I often hear people comment that they don't know enough about wine to enjoy it properly.  My knee-jerk reaction is usually a wince.

I have enjoyed much of my ongoing education in wine and have found that, like any field of study, the more you know, the more you're able to appreciate the landscapes, history, stories, personalities, and the context in which the focal point is made.  It is pretty cool to stick your nose into a glass and trace that sensory experience back to the slope of a vineyard hillside or the weather of a particular year or the thumbprint of a winemaker.  But does that enable me to enjoy wine more properly?


If anything, knowledge can hamper enjoyment.  Ask any restaurant employee how much they enjoy dining out.  Chances are pretty good that their thoughts are more occupied with analyzing the food and service than enjoying the experience.  And so it goes with wine. As fellow wine blogger Joe Roberts once said of attending a perspective tasting, it's "...the equivalent of having a joy vacuum attached to my wine-loving soul and turned on full-blast."

So, if you're ever encumbered by the idea that you don't know enough about wine to properly enjoy it, consider this: If you're not enjoying the wine you're drinking, it is definitely not because you don't know enough about it.  In fact, you probably have more of a discerning palate than you give yourself credit for.  The wine might just suck.  Regardless of the semantics, the truth is in your mouth, not in some nebulous yardstick of your knowledge.  If you can tell the difference between what tastes good to you and what doesn't, then you already know everything you need to know about wine.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Mar. 24

Wow, is there a broad spectrum here this week.  Bubbles? We got 'em.  Overpriced Chardonnay? Yup.  Gently aged Pinot?  Sure.  Read on - there's something for everyone here.

Cote Mas Crémant de Limoux
This trio of sparkling wines from Cote Mas demonstrates the diversity of Limoux very well. None alike, all unique - and all under $20.  If you went shopping for Valentine's Day Champagne last month and were stunned by sticker shock, have faith - there are plenty of more affordable quality alternatives the world over.  These wines are from the Languedoc region in the south of France and offer something more interesting than what you're probably accustomed to.  

Continuing Ed Bunos: Crémant is what the French call sparkling wine that's not from Champagne.  There's Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Jura, Crémant de Bourgogne, etc.  It just means "sparkling wine".  Now you know.

NV Cote Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé sub-$20 (received as a press sample)
Just barely blush in the glass.  Full-bodied bubbly delivering flavor on par with many still wines. Noteworthy. Favorite of the three.  I would buy this.

NV Cote Mas Crémant de Limoux sub-$20 (received as a press sample) Bracing, crisp, refreshing, accessible bubbly w/lots of green apple and jazzy fun. Somewhere fat, tender oysters are writing love letters to this sparkler.  Me, too.

NV Cote Mas Blanquette de Limoux sub-$20 (received as a press sample) Huh.  Very different.  The cork was shot (broke on attempting to open and wet at its core), which might explain the funk factor, but maybe not. Strong baked apple streusel flavors accompanied by more than a hint of fermentation gone wild. Honk.

2006 Rochioli Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $50
Granted, this one is closing in on eight years old, but from a nameplate like Rochioli, you'd expect it to have a little more staying power than this.  Not that there's anything wrong with it, but either the years have not been kind or it was never worth close to its price tag.  The $15 Pinot below offers more excitement than this.

2012 Sean Minor Pinot Noir Central Coast $15
More direct, head-on fruit from this Cali Pinot than you shake a stick at.  What's more is that there's spice and grip beyond the intensity of flavor.  Hooray for 2012 and hooray for good Pinot at $15!

2011 50 Harvests Cabernet Napa Valley $50
Channeling the challenges of this vintage, this debut wine from Scotto Cellars bares a striking resemblance to an elegant Chilean Cabernet.  Well made and with substance and character, it still can't shake dominant green vegetable overtones.  Looking forward to trying the next vintage.

2011 Groth Chardonnay Napa Valley $28
Respectable.  Enjoyable, even.  But $28?  No

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Climate Change and Winemaking

Coming off one of the driest years on record in California and one of the most brutal winters the country has seen in decades, it's no wonder the 'is climate change real?' hubbub has subsided.  For year farmers have acknowledged that the weather is different, and even politicians of all stripes are throwing in the denial towel and taking side on remediation.  Reflecting on this over lunch today, I wondered what the landscape of winegrowing regions will look like 30 years from now - and whether we'll even have to wait that long to see.

My lunch date was the regional sales rep for Precept Brands, a wine holding company in the Pacific Northwest.  The vast majority of their vineyards are in eastern Washington, where high desert climate dominates.  Far from the coastal volatility, rainfall is rare (five inches last year), the days are long (up to 17 hours of sunlight at the height of summer), and the diurnal temperature swings that vinifera thrive on are routine (often up to 40 degrees).  With the Columbia River just down the hill, this clean, isolated land is a perfectly situated, controllable environment for growing ultra-premium wine grapes - and they do.

As mid-season temperatures continue to occupy a wider band and shoulder seasons continue to experience extreme conditions, will traditional winegrowing regions become too challenging for winemakers to produce high-end product?  Chances are the weather is but one factor in determining how that will play out and only time will tell.  In the meantime, I'm doubling down on the prediction I've been making for years: secondary regions that sit just outside the limelight today will replace the Napas and the Bordeaux of the wine world.  Which means, get while the getting is good.  While $20 today buys you incredible quality and wine drinking experiences from eastern Washington, as other regions' stars fade, it's inevitable that these other places fortunes shall rise - and with them prices.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Mar. 17

Happy St. Patty's Day Hangover everyone.  This week offers another potpourri of styles and QPRs.  For full-throttle imbibing pleasure, check out William Hill's Chardonnay - a pleasant surprise, and the Simi Pinot - not too shabby.  Next week we'll examine some top shelf producers - and whether they measure up to their price tags.

2011 Simi Pinot Noir Sonoma County $20
Kapow!  This is a standout wine from a lackluster vintage.  That it's a Pinot at $20 makes it all the more alluring.  Intense, dark fruit is mainlined with attendant spice packaging and a vanilla streak thanks to its oak regimen.  Far from subtle and far from sucking. 

2011 Langmeil Shiraz Viognier Barossa "Hanging Snakes" $20
Interesting how much of a difference 4% Viognier makes in toning down the rambunctiousness of the Syrah.  Clean and well-made, this Oz red looks great on paper, but in the glass lacks any kind of X factor that otherwise would make it compelling. Still, if found on sale for $15 like I did, you could do a hell of a lot worse on a Tuesday night.

2008 Domain de Nizas Languedoc $10
Clean, full, and fairly typical Languedoc red with plenty of violet fruit, some floral and herbaceous aromas.  Pleasant enough, especially at $10, but falls shy of generating any real gravity.
2012 William Hill Cabernet Central Coast $15 (Sample)
Enormous improvement over the last time I tried this bottling.  Structure, acidity for backbone, and the fleshy fruit Central Coast is known for.  The Gallo folks aren't giving anything away on fire sale, nor should they.  This is priced exactly where it ought to be.

2012 William Hill Chardonnay Central Coast $15 (Sample)
Very enjoyable thanks to a friendly vanilla wafer thing held in check by a line of lacy acids that run vertically through it.  Full of round, plump flavors that start out in the big Cali-Chard way, but manage to finish long, lush, and - best of all - clean.  Disappears dangerously fast from the glass.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Mar. 10

Is that a hint of spring in the air?  Let's hope so.  Please, let's hope so...Wines reviewed this week which will be making encores on the Winethropology dinner table are the Chard, Zin, and Pinot.  Adventurous winos will also take special note on the Pinot.  If this example is any indication of the potential of non-grocery store wine New Zealander wine, we've all got something to be excited about.  Also be sure to check out Scott Harvey's wines.

2012 Wente Chardonnay Livermore Valley "Morning Fog" $11
Same as it was last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Which is to say that it's a straight-down-the-middle, value-priced Chard perfect for helping you cope with your midweek stress-induced impulse to retire early. 
2011 Scott Harvey Zinfandel Amador County $22 (Sample)
Scott Harvey's wines are never bad and their Syrah has been applauded on these pages before.  The Old World/New World continuum indicator on the rear labels (which all seem to point to Old World) is a novelty, even if hopelessly inaccurate.  Each sniff of the Zin offers up something new - a harbinger of great things.  As light in the glass as Pinot Noir, but hue and density are where its similarities to end.  Full spectrum clarity of intriguing flavors wrapped in an amiable, embrace of a wine follow.  There is a lot to love here. 

2011 Scott Harvey Barbera Amador County $18 (Sample)
The Barbera brings plenty of outward appeal, if at the expense of varietal character.  Extroverted fruit and a robust oak regimen make for a gregarious wine.  All in all, a crowd-pleasing wine.

2012 Field Recordings Red Wine Paso Robles "Fiction" $20
An oddity.  A wine that tastes the way the label looks.  Bordering on effervescent, this extracted animal is free-roaming and electric.  If you like kambucha, this living beverage may tickle your fancy.  Made of a kitchen sink blend of (get this) Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Touriga Nacional, Mourvedre, Grenache, and Cinsault. 

2008 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Central Otago "Growers Collection" $18
Purchased on a blow-out sale from Last Bottle, this unique and high-quality wine is of a caliber that vastly outpaces its discounted price tag.  Holding up beautifully after six years since harvest.  In possession of several elements that make for compelling Pinot (all in modest doses, making it just that much more enticing) like tar, smoke, green herbs, bright acids, and a character that suggests self-awareness.  Very happy to have another bottle, sad that it's just one.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Recycle Bin, Week of Mar. 3

Some variety this week - and most of it towards the budget end of the block.  My favorite of all?  The Chard.

2012 Mark West Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $14
First time seeing this bottling from Mark West, who scored high with their 2011 Carneros Pinot at $17.  This example is thinner than typical California Pinots with a lull in the mid-palate.  Interesting spices on the finish, but not enough here to make it a repeat offender. However, some time decanted mad A BIG DIFFERENCE.  The sharp edge on opening receded into the background, but lingered as a point of interest. Like that neighbor lady who doesn't shy away from dropping a four letter word at just the right time; sparingly and effectively. 
2012 Cameron Hughes Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County $15
A new label - and line - from Cameron who introduces this crowd-pleaser that's heavy-handed on everything from its texture to its vanilla-lined oaky tannins.  Full and plush, what it lacks in elegance it makes up for in warmth and accessibility.  My money is on at least some of this fruit coming from the Red Hills AVA. 
2011 Chateau Ste Michelle Chardonnay Columbia Valley $11
If you like your Chards obvious, forward, and big on malo/oak (like the Mrs does), you can't go wrong with this wallet-friendly winner.  Well made and lacking in anything to critique, this is as good a Chardonnay as I've had all month - and that includes a Cakebread.   
NV Rene Barbier Mediterranean White Catalunya $6
Something's wrong here.  Industrial chemical notes on the attack don't exactly make you want to come back for another go.  Floral soap permeates the whole sequence of tastes.  Dumped immediately.  Don't let this dissuade you from trying the same producer's red wine, though.