Paying Attention to Tension



tensionAndrew Jefford’s recent post on the current enthusiasm for wines with tension and energy points to an important dimension of wine quality which is often overlooked in tasting grids used by certification organizations.

‘Tension’ and ‘energy’ are modish words to use about wine, as are ‘precision’ and ‘focus’. After a purple patch in which opulence and ripeness have been the cock qualities, we’re now chasing a different bird. Well-crafted Petit Chablis from the latest vintage certainly has these qualities, but what else could hope to qualify, and where do such wines come from?

Tension and energy are of course not new to wine. Great wines have always had them, even some of those opulent, ripe wines that some connoisseurs  have come to despise. (Although excessive ripeness in the wrong grapes can kill the vitality of wine). But today we do place more emphasis on these qualities than in the past if tasting notes are an indicator. Is this just a new fad, “modish” as Jefford calls it? Or are we getting better–more fine grained, more attentive to nuance–when describing wine quality? I suspect we’re getting more descriptive, if it’s true that great wines have always had these qualities.

As to where that tension comes from Jefford is right that it’s not just acidity alone or modest alcohol alone—some high acid wines don’t have tension and some high alcohol wines do. But I suspect it has something to do with acidity in its relation to other components. In physics, tension is the force that tries to restore an initial state of equilibrium which has been altered. In wine, it’s acidity that creates the alteration, but it has to be pulling against something to create tension. No single component could by itself create tension.

Despite the importance of the phenomenon Jeffords points to I have some quibbles with his presentation. He seems to think tension, energy, precision, and focus (TEPF) all come together as a package.

Any wine creator can go running after opulence and ripeness, but TEPF is a property of wine creation practised in a particular place.

But there are forms of energy in a wine unrelated to tension.  Dark, massive, somber Cabernets with powerful tannins exude force and energy but not much tension. Some Mosel Rieslings  are alive with energetic movement on the palate but lack the sensation of components pulling apart and being held momentarily in taut suspension which is characteristic of wines with tension.“ Precision” and “focus” often refer to how the aroma notes are clearly etched, sharp and clean independently of the tension on the palate.

We probably should not run these concepts together.

But this is a quibble. Jefford’s is right that tension is now an important dimension of wine quality and it is likely here to stay.


Wine Blog Daily Thursday 9/20/18


wine and bbqA daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

1 Wine Dude’s wine product roundup for this month includes many items suitable as gifts for wine lovers.

Chewin’ Over Eats and Drinks has good advice for pairing wine and beer with BBQ.

Pam Strayer reports on scaling up biodynamic vineyards.

Threads and Vino interviews Connecticut’s Michele McAuliffe owner/winemaker of R Dee Winery

wineOrl profiles Champagne’s Côte des Bar sub-region

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Wine Travel Eats profiles Cain Vineyards on Spring Mountain, master of the use of brett as a flavor component.

Amanda Barnes visits New Zealand’s Stonyridge Vineyards,

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode tastes the 2015 Barbarescos and 2014 Barolos with Gaia Gaja

Meg Houston Maker reviews the 2016 Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris Alsace.

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Alois Lageder “Fórra” Manzoni Bianco 2016

Steve Heimoff reviews several newly released Pinot Noir from Sonoma’s En Garde.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Rouge from M. Chapoutier.

The Drunken Cyclist profiles Martini and Rossi’s sparkling wines.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s wine of the week is the Falesco Vitiano Rosso 2015

Amber LeBeau reviews the 2013 Amici Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Tom Lee reviews new releases from Lauren Ashton Cellars

Tom Plant profiles several wineries in San Diego County’s Ramona Valley, an underappreciated wine region.

Vino Sphere reviews the Bollina Corte Medicea 2015 ‘Cletus’ Toscana IGT, Tuscany

Crushed Grape Chronicles profiles Maloof Wines a relatively new winery in Willamette Valley

Aaron Nix Gomez reviews two rosé, a Spatburgunder from Pfalz and a Grenache/Cinsault from Languedoc-Roussillon

Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 9/19/18


desert vineyardsA daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

Tom Wark is not happy with conjunctive label laws that require Sub AVA’s to put the larger region they are part of on the label.

W. Blake Gray reports on attempts to grow grapes in an inhospitable part of Red Mountain AVA where there’s no soil or water.

The Wine Curmudgeon comments on weed and food pairings, wine clubs, and wine and health

Jameson Fink reports on a comparative tasting of Chardonnay from Australia, France, and California.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Allison Levine has advice on where to stay, eat and drink in Downtown Napa.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode tastes several Sherries of various styles.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the Monopole Rhapsody Bull’s Blood from Eger, Hungary.

Lisa Johnston reviews the Saint Cosme “Little James Basket Press” Blanc 2017 from Gigondas.

Aaron Nix Gomez reviews the 2017 Chateau Coupe Roses, Bastide, from Minervois

Tom Lee reviews the 2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Koplen Vineyard, Russian River

Margins Wine: In Search of Difference in Santa Cruz


margins“I wanted to make wine that was different, outside the comfort zone of most tasting room visitors” said Megan Bell, as we sipped through her lineup of low-intervention wines. Hence the name “Margins”. Trained at UC Davis and with multiple apprenticeships in wineries from California to Loire Valley, Megan certainly knows conventional winemaking. But she is chasing a different dream giving recognition to vineyards, varietals, and wine styles that she admits many people “won’t get”.

But these wines are eminently “gettable” if you appreciate originality. Although firmly in the style of natural wines made using native yeasts, low sulfur, without fining and filtering,  and only neutral oak, they nevertheless taste like no other and each bottle brings something distinctive to the table. With an annual production of only 500 cases (but growing) snap these up. They sell quickly.  Oh, and she has some of the coolest labels to ever grace a wine bottle.

Purchase Here.

Reviews are based on industry samples

Chenin Blanc  2017 Wilson Vineyards Block 20 Clarksburg

Made from organic grapes, this wine is creamy but with an underlying textured mouth feel, the result of skin contact for about 30% of these grapes. Apple, lemon, robust floral notes and a hint of yogurt on the nose, on the palate its more mineral than fruity with slight honey midpalate and a bit of pine on the structured finish.  6 months in used oak. A vibrant white wine with red aspirations.  90 pts. $25

Cabernet Franc Santa Cruz Mountains 2017

This is very French, straight from the Loire via Santa Cruz. Strawberry with background hint of barnyard especially after aeration and mint that plays hide and seek. Tart cranberry on the palate, this is lean with some interesting citrus-like top notes. The finish is acid-driven with powdery tannins playing a supporting role. A 3 week fermentation, on neutral oak for 8 months.  88 pts.   $26

Sangiovese Arroyo Seco Mesa Del Sol Vineyard 2017

From very stressed vines in a very hot vineyard on the back side of Big Sur, this is not Italian. No sour cherry here. This is a darkly fruited Sangiovese redolent of ripe plums, freshly turned earth, blackberry and hints of caramel. The palate is rich and round, full bodied, bringing chocolate to the table with really lovely supple tannins that build on the peppery, mouthwatering finish. Large-framed but elegant and refreshing, there is real purity of fruit on the finish. 6 months in used French and American oak. A standout.  92 pts.   $26

Mourvedre Santa Clara Valley Sattler’s Vineyard 2017

This wine is so unique, I could explore it for hours. An unusual nose, ripe berry, coffee, herbal wood notes, against a spiced chocolate background. It’s very luscious and creamy on the palate, supple and ingratiating, with a lengthy drawn out midsection that gently slides into a subtle finish softly lingering, loaded with delicate, hi-toned acidity that never cuts. A meditative, dreamy wine to be enjoyed with Jan Garbarek’s Knot of Place and Time.  92 pts.

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 9/18/18


A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

mt-etna-vineyardsTom Hyland explores the pre-Phylloxera vines from Mt. Etna

Tom Wark rebuts a recent defense of the three tier system by Rob Tobiassen, former Chief Attorney for the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Amber Lebeau argues that Washington State should avoid specializing in a single grape.

The Wine Curmudgeon makes a movie about sommeliers and Bogart.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Wine Travel Eats visits Doffo Wines in Temecula.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Meg Houston Maker reviews an unusual varietal in the U.S., the 2017 Sidebar Kerner from Mokelumne River Lodi.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the Crios Red Blend from Uco Valley, Mendoza

Jameson Fink reviews the François Villard Viognier “Les Contours de Deponcins” 2015

Pull That Cork profiles Aridus Wine Company from Willcox, Arizona.

Larry the Wine Guy reviews the 2015 Poggio Gli Angeli Sangiovese from Toscana IGT.

Another Important Point about Wine and Objectivity



ancient winemakingRecently, I pointed to success at passing the tasting component of the Masters of Wine exam as evidence that wine tasting and wine quality are not purely subjective. If it were, success on these exams would be random and arbitrary which they clearly are not.

Another bit of evidence for the same conclusion is more historical. We agree that some wines taste better than others because that agreement is based on focused investigations through several centuries by thousands of individuals, who could make a living only if they convinced others that their product is better than their competitors.

Through hundreds of years, generation after generation, particular plots of land have been carefully cultivated separating out the inferior vineyards from the successful ones with success determined by whether people buy the wine or not. Over that time, viticulture and winemaking techniques have also been tested, again weeding out what works from what doesn’t with everyone searching for an edge that will sell their wine.

The view that winetasting is subjective and wine quality arbitrary cannot explain those countless, independent decisions made under conditions that crucially matter for the survival of their communities.

Is it plausible to think these decisions were made by flipping coins or taking wild, uninformed guesses? Isn’t it substantially more plausible to think these decisions were usually based on a shared sense of what counts as good wine that was continually honed through innovation after innovation because it mattered that they get it right?

Obviously there were mistakes made along the way and corrupt motives often held sway—wine communities are human communities after all. And obviously there are different conceptions of quality, several ways for wine to be delicious.  But it is implausible to think there was no concept of quality informing these decisions.

No doubt there have always been sharp disagreements about wine quality. But through trial and error some people win debates and some people lose, because some wines taste better than others. Over time the frauds, hucksters and incompetents are found out and eliminated.

There is an in eliminable subjective dimension to wine preferences, to be sure, but given sufficient time, independence, and incentives to improve, the merely personal and idiosyncratic that are unsupported by a concept of quality are less likely to be reproduced.

Wine Blog Daily Monday 9/17/18


old wine cellar 2A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

Oliver Styles wonders why wine shops and winery stores don’t take more care to properly cellar their wines.

Tom Wark ponders the future of wine.

The Wine Curmudgeon talks to Andrew Stover a distributor and supporter of local wines.

The Wine Gourd tracks the number of wineries in the U.S.

Alfonso Cevola, On The Wine Trail in Italy, recounts his history with Erbaluce, a relatively obscure grape from Piemonte.

Alder Yarrow promotes the upcoming Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting in San Francisco.

Cindy Rynning hosts a discussion of the past, present, and future of Vinho Verde.

Amber Lebeau has a list of wine podcasts worth listening to, focusing especially on Wine for Normal People’s discussion of Tuscan wine regions.

Dallas Wine Chick delves into the history of Montepulciano DOCG.

Helen Conway has the facts and figures on Welsh and English wine and the wines of New South Wales Australia.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode tastes several Cape Wines from South Africa and several more here.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the Leitz Eins Zwei Dry Riesling “3” from Rheingau

Fredric Koeppel reviews Tenuta Sant’Antonio Nanfrè 2016, Valpolicella Superiore.

Issac Baker reviews several Alsatian Gewurztraminer.

Jameson Fink reviews the  2017 Delinquente Wine Co. “Tuff Nutt” Bianco d’Alessano (Riverland)

Food Wine Click tastes forbidden foods and stinky wines from Cahors.

Helen Conway tastes through an intriguing lineup of Welsh wines.

Red Wine Please reviews the line up from Georges Deboeuf’s new line of wines from Pays d’Oc.

Tom Lee reviews the 2004 J. Rochioli Pinot Noir River Block Vineyard

Tim Lemke reviews the 2016 P.J. Valckenberg, Riesling from Rheinhessen.

Amber Lebeau reviews the 2007 Beringer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Crushed Grape Chronicles reviews several Malbecs from Cahors.

Budget Wine Review: Paul Mas Grenache Noir Pays d’Oc 2017


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paul masDomaine Paul Mas has mastered the business of selling inexpensive French wine to the export market. Sourced from vineyards located in Languedoc, Jean-Claude Mas makes wines in the ripe, smooth style that succeeds on the international market. Domaine Paul Mas (named for Jean-Claude’s father) is the largest privately-owned winery in France outside Champagne.

Red berry and a hint of the garrique (thyme, rosemary, lavender) aromas characteristic of the south of France but marked by prominent chocolate notes that mask the herbal qualities.  In the mouth the wine is juicy, but not overly ripe, spicy, with plenty of bright acidity that turns tart on the finish. The tannins stay well in the background. Medium body with a smooth texture, this is a decent wine with enough French character showing to make it interesting for less than $10, although it is pushing in the “international” direction with the prominent chocolate notes.

A warm, generous wine that resonated with Al Green’s Love and Happiness.

Score: 87

Price: $9

Alc: 13.5%

Wine Blog Daily Friday 9/14/18


biodynamic prepA daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

1 WineDude reports on the biodynamic preparations at Troon Vineyards in Oregon.

The Academic Wino has all you need to know about disgorgement and dosage in sparkling wines.

The Wine Curmudgeon reports on his experience at the Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018

Natalie Sellers has the list of Chile’s most expensive wines.

Amanda Barnes, Around the World in 80 Harvests, profiles Portugal’s Dão wine region.

Peter Pharos says huzzah for the wine marketeer. All clap!

Wine to Five Podcast is about a wine-fuelled summer trip across Europe.

wineORL profiles Jacques Lassaigne making grower Champagne in Montgueux

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

The Drunken Cyclist is nearly finished with his ordeal—Day 8 of the 10 worst days of his life in Beaujolais.

Wine Travel Eats visits Palumbo Family Winery in Temecula.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel asks and answers What’s the Deal with Malbec?

Meg Houston Maker reviews the 2016 Kingston Family Vineyards Chardonnay Sabino Casablanca Valley, Chile

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the 2014 Pertinace Barbera d’Alba

Tom Lee reviews Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot #67

Aaron Nix Gomez reviews two from Montefalco Sagrentino