Wine Blog Daily Friday 1/19/18

winery-3061895__340A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

The Wine Curmudgeon reports on Silicon Valley Bank’s look ahead at the wine business in 2018.

JVB Uncorked reports on a new Italian sparkling wine style, Secco, which has been given DOCG status. It’s basically dry Moscato

Hannah Perkins at My Pour Decisions explains the job of a winery publicist.

Susannah Gold’s adventures in home winemaking continue at Avinnare.

Aaron Nix-Gomez has a photo of a wine press from Madeira circa 1834.

Miquel Hudin takes a look back at his predictions for 2017, assessing the hits and misses.

WineOrL continues summarizing author Peter Lem’s conceptualization of Champagne sub-regions, taking a look at Côte des Blancs.

Allison Levine at Please the Palate profiles the innovative David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards

Selected Reviews

Reverse Wine Snob samples the Casillero Del Diablo Rosé a Chilean wine made mostly from Syrah.

Jamie Goode reviews the very serious Ata Rangi McCrone Pinot Noir 2006 Martinborough, New Zealand


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Budget Wine Review: Ray’s Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast 2016



rays creekI can’t find out anything about this winery which probably means this wine is bulk juice that someone with a distribution contract slapped a label on.

Generic berry aromas, a little dust and dry herbs on the nose. The palate is thin and watery but the acidity is soft and the tannins fine grained, so it’s drinkable but forgettable.

And at $14 dollars its not really a bargain; there are better Cabs out there for less.

But when you have a generic wine there is something you can do to make it more exciting. Serve it with a compatible dish (a burger would do fine) and play music that matches the mood of the wine. This wine gained some body when accompanied by simple, up-tempo rock like Queens of the Stone Age No One Knows.

Score: 83

Price: $14

Alc: 13.5%

Wine Blog Daily Thursday 1/18/18

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

madeira vineyards

Vineyards in Madeira

Aaron Nix-Gomez discovers tasting notes for various Madeira from the 1882 Bordeaux Wine Exhibition.

Brian Tippy at I Like This Grape weighs in on the trend to age wine in Bourbon barrels.

Bob on Sonoma explains the differences between Organic, Biodynamic, Sustainable and Natural Wine.

Blake Gray summarizes Silicon Valley Bank‘s annual State of the Wine Industry Report, which includes some warnings about headwinds for the wine industry.

The Drunken Cyclist explores Catania, Sicily in pictures.

Selected Reviews:

John Fodera continues his report on 2012 Brunello di Montalcino.

Fredric Koeppel reviews a white wine from Portugal,  Olho de Mocho Reserva 2014, made from a grape little known in the U.S.– antão vaz.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s Wine of the Week is the Terre del Föhn Marzemino that sells for $12.

They grow something besides Pinot in Central Otago. Mathew Gaughan reviews the Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling.

Susannah Gold tastes the 2006 Cheval Blanc and we live vicariously.


Everything is Wine



stop timeFrom Baudelaire’s poem, Get Drunk:

One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters; that’s our one imperative need. So as not to feel Time’s horrible burden that breaks your shoulders and bows you down, you must get drunk without ceasing.
But what with? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.

Perhaps we should assess our lives according to how conducive they are to drunkeness, to the loss of a sense of time passing. How many pregnant moments are available to us where every blade of grass or drop of water is a source of such hyperbolic fascination that time flows without measure?

The authorities would surely be opposed, which is why few think of this as the paradigm of a good life. Why do we listen to them?

Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 1/17/18

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

The Wine Economist, Mike Veseth, describes how trickle up wine economics works in vintages such as 2017 when the harvest is poor.

Master of Wine Tim Atkin asks What do we mean by fine wine?

Blake Gray visits a winery that follows the Torah in leaving vineyard land fallow, i.e. producing no crop, once every seven years, and discovers a real difference.

Vincent Rendoni at Wine Folly covers Nebbiolo in a nutshell.

Courtney Schiessel traces the rebirth of Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s Schioppettino, the robust red wine that almost disappeared.

Susannah Gold continues her investigation of indigenous Italian Varietals this week discussing Morone Nero from Tuscany.

Selected Reviews:

Alison Levine explores four producers from Madeira.

Meg Houston Maker reviews  the 2014 Passopisciaro Contrada R Terre Siciliane, a Nerello Mascalese from Mt. Etna.

Tom Lee reviews one of Washington State’s classic wines, the Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard 2008.

Populist Gastronomy?


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Is fine cuisine worth its exorbitant price? Sometimes, although price can be an unreliable indicator of quality. But when I have had the opportunity to indulge in high-end dining, I’m struck by how many diners don’t seem to be enjoying their food. In fact, the food seems to be an afterthought for the majority who are focused on showing off the depth of their wallet, being a general lout, taking care of business, partying, or gossiping about the latest celebrity in rehab. Fine cuisine is wasted, if not on the rich, surely on the bored, distracted, or ignorant.

Food writer Jay Rayner in his book The Man Who Ate the World noted the same phenomenon in his worldwide quest for the perfect meal.

…if my journey around he world had taught me anything, it was this: That every night, in the great food cities of the new millennium, there were terrific restaurants, filled with horrible people who were there because they could afford them,or, through status, gain access to them, and who were having a much nicer time than they deserved

Commenting on his fellow Brits he explains, “In Britain, food is, and always has been, from the top down”, an interest in food having been invented by the aristocracy as a status symbol. By contrast, he argues,

In France, the food culture is a bottom-up affair, with high gastronomy only being its ultimate expression. The notion of Le Terroir to which every Frenchman cleaves—that there is a specific piece of land from which their identity comes—may well encourage gastronomic conservatism, but it does at least lend the whole business a certain democracy.

The French are allegedly losing their gastronomic edge along with the intimate connection between French identity and fine cuisine. But Rayner’s thesis that a genuinely appreciative food culture must be a bottom up affair strikes me as plausible. People will care about flavor and the meaning of food only when their knowledge and experience is sufficient to warrant such a commitment. Such knowledge and experience is more attainable in a culture thoroughly suffused with the belief that their cuisine is more than a pleasant diversion but an expression of who they are. (Of course, the French are not alone in this belief; the Italians and Japanese and perhaps others are similarly committed.)

So what about the food culture in the United States? Is it a top-down affair where celebrity chefs create wondrous creations for status-driven consumers with too much money? Or is the growing “foodie” culture a place where genuine appreciation is rooted in deep knowledge of ingredients, methods, and traditions?

Aside from redoubts such as Louisiana where food traditions have long had a grip on the public, Americans discovered their palate only a few decades ago. Do we have what it takes to join the great cuisines of the world?

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 1/16/18

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

Bob Hunnicutt explores the issue of calories in wine.

Aaron Nix-Gomez discovers wicker capsules on old bottles of Madeira.

Jamie Goode visits St. Clair in Marlborough to discover the secret of their very aromatic Sauvignon Blanc.

The Wine Curmudgeon takes his occasional foray into the high end with his review of a 2007 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Caroline Henry has the latest news on the 2017 vintage in Champagne; the news appears to be positive.

Cellar Tours has an overview of non-Burgundy regions that produce great Pinot Noir.

Julien Miquel has some advice and recipes for pairing food with Prosecco.

John Fodera predicts the next great Super Tuscan will be from Orma Estate in Bolgheri.

Global Wines is now focusing on wines from Dao Portugal, and Sarah Ahmed has the story.

The Art of Wine: Cain Vineyard and Winery and the Art of Brett Management


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Cain spring mountain Charles OrearIn the wine world today, the “spirit of the age” is the pursuit of pure fruit expression. Find a healthy vineyard site where the grapes have character and will ripen without losing acidity. Experiment with fermentation until you find that magical extraction point where fruit, tannins, and color are in balance. Give it a kiss of oak to add complexity and roundness. Filter and fine to get rid of off flavors and aromas, and you’re well on your way to high scoring nirvana. This approach has created the modern, hugely successful wine industry and critical standards have developed that reflect that success.

I respect and enjoy polish, clarity, and clean, focused fruit power. But it doesn’t make me fall in love. Maybe it’s the old drummer in me, but what I really love is a bit of funk, aka “barnyard”, “animal”, or when euphemisms are in order, “savory”. Often, these flavors are the result of a brettanomyces infection that most winemakers go to great lengths to eliminate from their wine and which all the wine tasting certification agencies treat as a fault.

I guess I’m a bit out of step with the spirit of the age. It wouldn’t be the first time.


Winery Entrance

So I was excited to visit with Christopher Howell, winemaker at Napa’s Cain Vineyards and well known for his use of brettanomyces as a flavor element. Chris is also one of the most thoughtful winemakers I’ve met, very comfortable putting wine in the larger context of the humanities and talking meaningfully about his philosophy of winemaking.

Brettanomyces bruxellensis, or “brett” as it’s called, is a yeast which, along with its close cousin dekkera bruxellensis, infects winery equipment, barrels and sometimes grape skins. They create compounds that result in various aromas some of which are intriguing, such as sweaty saddles, bacon fat, or barnyard, and some that are just unpleasant such as band-aid or rancid cheese. Some people are quite sensitive to these compounds and will be put off by even a whiff. Thus, many winemakers strive mightily to eliminate any trace of it. In some cases an entire winery will have to be dismantled and rebuilt to eliminate the yeast spores that keep on giving vintage after vintage.

However, for others, the presence of a modest brett aroma gives wine character and interest and some of the great wines in history have been influenced by brett.

“How did we learn that this was wrong?” Chris Howell asks. “We value civet in perfume. Why not wine? It’s all about context”, he says, as he goes on to explain that our preferences for particular aromas are very much a cultural artifact, learned from the social environment around us. The clear implication is that maybe our tasting practices and wine education materials should not lump brett in with cork taint or the presence of hydrogen sulfide which are always unpleasant.

Cain winery; Cain Five; Napa; Napa County; California; USA; North AmericaThe trick of course is to know how to keep brett  at acceptable levels. “We don’t know how to manage brett yet”, says Chris but adds optimistically, “it always stops. It’s a fermentation and we kind of know when it’s going to stop.” The science of brett management is still nascent. After all, why study something that most people want to get rid of. But clearly Chris’s 28 years of experience with these vineyards and his wine education in France give him an instinctual understanding of how to assess brett levels and potential development. As you can see from my tasting notes below, the brett character is subtle and more of a background note. “It shouldn’t be the dominant flavor component”, says Chris. It adds character without being the character.

The value of brettanomyces is not the only issue about which Chris Howell walks off the beaten path. Another bête noire of modern winemaking is the presence of bell pepper aromas in Cabernet Sauvignon. The result of compounds called pyrazines, they do mar fruit expression when too dominant. Yet, not all green notes are  unpleasant. “Cab should carry green notes if that is what your vineyards give you. Everyone thinks it’s bell pepper so they just get rid of it”, according to Chris. “But it’s part of what makes our vineyard distinctive.” Once again it’s a matter of degree. If there is enough complexity and evolution in the wine, the smell of green herbs—mint, sage, rosemary– becomes complimentary adding character to what otherwise tastes like fruit juice. “I like wines that transcend fruit” asserts Chris, and indeed his wines have an herbal character that hearkens back to an older style of Napa Cabernet before the the fascination with fruit bombs became the rage.

“We don’t have to please everyone. Some people don’t like our wine and that’s fine. I just want them to suspend judgment and approach them with an open mind.”

That said, Chris’s wines nevertheless have that glow of California sunshine–rich, dense and powerful, with exuberant fruit expression yet with an complex array of non-fruit flavors creating contrast and intrigue.

I would be remiss it I didn’t mention one other important contributor to Cain Vineyards’ signature wine, the Cain Five. That would be elevation.valley The estate vineyards slope downward from near the crest of Spring Mountain with a spectacular view of Napa Valley at elevations that range from 1200 to 2100 feet. The combination of intense sunlight, shallow soils, and good drainage often produce smaller berry size and tougher skins in mountain fruit. Notoriously, the tannins in mountain wines can be hard to manage but produce powerfully structured wines when given time to develop. Cain Five, their signature blend from estate grapes, is no exception. It is a firm, fiercely tannic wine that manages to be elegant and supple as well. That sounds like a paradox but paradox is the essence of great wine.

These wines are as original as the person who makes them.

Cain’s wines illustrate something that I’ve been calling “resonance” and is a feature of all great wines. They build in intensity, starting with an undercurrent of tension in the midpalate that keeps broadening in the mouth even after peaking and beginning to fade. There is duality in the wine. The satiny mouth feel and fresh, round fruit gives way to rising intensity emerging from the background as the acidity and tannin begin to dominate, the fruit reappearing again as a pale image on the finish. Especially as the wines age, both the acidity and tannins seem fragile, but they somehow take over and drive the momentum. My point is that this is a play of forms in transition like the tonal effects operating in the background of a symphony. Great wines are not static; they form themselves in the mouth. Resonance is the key to greatness in wine. Lesser wines are pleasing but lack resonance. There is no better place to discover resonance that at Cain Vineyards and Winery.

Here is the lineup of wines that we tasted starting with the young uns:

NV 13  Cain Cuvée  Napa Valley

A blend of two vintages, 2012 and 2013, with fruit from both Spring Mountain and the valley floor, and a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.   Just a hint of barnyard, against a background of baked earth, this is a hearty wine with some rusticity on the finish. Quite savory with notes of blackberry bramble, toast, and French roast coffee on the palate, and a hint of bitterness on the finish, the tannins are fine grained and quite accessible. Juicy up front it acquires a relentless inner drive, defiant and a bit feral.  Score: 90  pts.  Alc: 14.3%  Price: $35

Cain Five 2013 Spring Mountain District

Their signature wine is outstanding, stunningly complex. Rich, deep blackberry fruit but with savory herb highlights, thyme,  hints of caramel, a slightly smoky, saddle leather aroma, a bit of licorice and floral notes emerging midpalate round out the aroma notes on this very complex wine.  Deeply concentrated, it gives an initial impression of being sumptuous and elegant yet it’s powerful, exuding a kind of spiritual calm but with latent energy pulsating below the surface. Concentrated fruit, incisive acidity and broad, dry yet refined almost talc-like tannins create a sense of massiveness in the background that bely its welcoming surface. This wine is about contrast held in suspension. Made from 100% mountain fruit from estate vineyards, it’s a Cabernet dominated Bordeaux-style blend. Score: 94 Alc: 14.3% Ave. Price: $123   Peter Gabriel’s Rhythm of the Heat captures the spirit of this wine.

Cain Concept The Benchland Napa Valley 2013

A Cabernet dominated Bordeux-style blend from Rutherford bench grapes grown on the valley floor. This wine shows a bit more red fruit in the mix–voluptuous black cherry, cocoa, sage and dusty earth–but lacks some of the funky flavor of the other cuvees.  This wine has a lovely, round mouthfeel, which is not surprising since the fruit is from the Rutherford bench and has the character of more typical Napa Cabernet. It is lush and generous right from the introduction with bright fruit notes persisting through the long, languorous finish. Happily, the oak is already very well integrated. This is more intimate, romantic, and stylish than the Cain Five, yet it still has a firm backbone. Score: 93  Alc: 14.6%   Ave Price:$93   Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love nails the attitude.

Cain Five 2006  Spring Mountain District

This has warm, generous fruit and earth, ripe black cherry, saddle leather, thyme, and subtle roasted meat on the nose. Full and concentrated on the palate, the midpalate shows some softness that is disrupted by hi-toned acidity and burgeoning tannins and so the wine shows off a bit of brawn is it progresses. The tannins are beginning to show some mellowness because they’ve become powdery but you sense they were massive when young. Despite the ripe, round fruit, the structure keeps drawing your attention to an angular point that draws energy just before the finish as if the tannins and acidity want to tame its exuberance. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc,and  6% Malbec. Score: 93 Alc: 14.1%

Cain Five 2004 Spring Mountain District

Gorgeous, simply gorgeous. Ah, so nicely pungent, you first encounter a heady mix of saddle leather, mushroom, and tobacco, resting on top of mocha, the fruit, what fruit? Actually there is some dried black cherry and dried plum filling in the background but this is very savory. There is also a leafy character and a mineral core after some aeration, just an endless parade of bewitching flavors. After years in the bottle, the midpalate is pure silk, but a rising current of powdered tannins threaded with delicate but prominent acidity produce a broad, wave-like finish showing dried fruit and a hint of charcoal.  At this point in its development it still has a very generous nose and a lively palate. The mood is intense, feral, and sort of angst-ridden, not rustic but urban tough. I was surprised that the Stones Paint It Black really resonated with this wine. Score: 96

Reviews based on industry samples

Wine Blog Daily Monday 1/15/18

grapes-1952073__340A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

Troon Vineyards’ Craig Camp reports on their first steps toward full organic and biodynamic certification.

Jamie Goode wonders in anti-cork sentiment is fading in New Zealand and Australia.

Alfonso Cevola argues that Italian wine is ready to challenge the French in the global market for fine wine.

Talk-A-Vino interviews Sandrine Logette, Cellar Master of Champagne Duval-Leroy, and Séverine Frerson, Chef de Caves at Piper-Heidsieck.

Amanda Barnes profiles Andre Weinert of Mendoza’s Bodega & Cavas de Weinert

Tom Wark discusses the Napa Valley Vintners announcement that they oppose the  Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018.

Dallas Wine Chick investigates the wines of New Jersey.

At Reverse Wine Snob Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron of Ancient Peaks Winery discuss the art and science of blending wines.

Michelle Williams gives us an overview of Australian Shiraz and reminds us of how good they can be.

Selected Reviews

Jamie Goode reviews the Ravanes Les Gravières du Taurou 2000 a budget wine from Languedoc that once beat Petrus.

JVB Uncorked reviews an extreme wine, Kellerei Cantina Andrian’s ‘Tor Di Lupo’ Lagrein Riserva 2014, DOC Alto Adige.

Ken’s Wine Guide tastes several Zinfandels in anticipation of February’s ZAP tasting.

Meg Houston Maker reviews the 2014 Foursight Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley’s Charles Vineyard

Julien Miquel reviews the 2010 Château Couhins-Lurton Rouge, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux

Emotions and Wine: Finally Some Empirical Data



wine and emotionAs dedicated readers of this blog are likely aware, I’ve been arguing that we respond to wines not just with our senses but with emotions as well. (See articles here and here for example) In some cases a particular wine may directly induce an emotional response in us. In other cases, we make metaphorical associations with a wine that has emotional connotations.

Thus far I’ve been relying primarily on my own experiences and the experiences of others who report such experiences. My thesis is not that associating wine with emotions is a common activity. I don’t know how widespread it is. Rather I claim that such associations are available to us if we pay attention to them and that they enhance the aesthetic experience of wine in just the way paying attention to emotional expression in music enhances the experience of music.

Now there is some empirical data to support my thesis. The Academic Wino is reporting on a study, apparently the first of its kind, to be published in the journal Food Quality and Preference entitled “The Relationship Between Sensory Characteristics and Emotion in Wine Preferences”. The study shows that consumers do in fact make these associations between wine and emotions. Unfortunately, the study is behind a paywall and I don’t yet have access to it. But The Academic Wino helpfully summarizes it for us.

This study had two parts:  a sensory evaluation of the wines by a trained panel (11 total: 5 women, 6 men; faculty and researchers from the School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain), and a consumer evaluation of the wines with an additional emotional response analysis…

The sensory evaluation by the trained panel used standard tasting methodology. The consumer evaluation is the interesting part.

For the consumer evaluation, participants were first asked to complete questionnaires on demographics and wine consumption habits. Next, they participated in a “warm-up” or “practice” tasting session with 7 wines presented [blind] at the same time.  Finally, after the warm-up, they were presented with the sample of 6 test wines briefly mentioned above.

After tasting the wines (which were presented in random order), participants were asked to rate their liking of each wine (using a 9-point hedonic scale), and what emotions were elicited by each wine (using the EsSense 25 software). Emotions were rated using a 10-cm line scale with the labels “very low” and “very high” at the ends (and everything in between).

The 208 participants were recruited from the School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, consumed wine at least once a month, and included young adults, middle aged adults and older adults. Here are some of the results:

  • “Most of the emotion terms evaluated were found to be significantly different between the wines.
  • Only 4 out of 26 terms did not show significant association with the wines (“adventurous”, “free”, “wild”, and “worried”).
  • The emotion terms “good”, “happy”, “joyful”, “mild”, and “pleasant”, were positively associated with fruity and floral aromas/flavors in the wines.
  • The emotion terms “aggressive” and “guilty” were associated with the aromas/flavors of vanilla, clove, and licorice.
  • “Aggressive” was also found to be associated with astringent characteristics.
  • Using cluster analysis, wines were found to be grouped differently when looking at sensory characteristics alone versus when looking at emotional variables alone. (NOTE:  cluster analysis shows which wines are most similar to each other.)
    • Sensory analysis grouped the wines as: 1) the verdejo white in one group; 2) the chardonnay and rosé wine in another group; 3) a Rioja Tempranillo (2012) and a Ribera del Duero Tempranillo in another group; and 4) a different Rioja Tempranillo (2013) in the last group.
    • Emotion analysis grouped the wines as: 1) the verdejo and chardonnay wines in one group; 2) the rose wine in another group; 3) the two Rioja Tempranillos (2012, 2013) in another group; and 4) the Ribera del Duero Tempranillo in the last group.”

There were some differences depending on gender and age which I will ignore for now.

The conclusions however are a bit puzzling. I’m not sure if these are conclusions drawn by the authors of the study or by The Academic Wino. She writes:

Out of 26 different emotions of focus in this study, only 4 were found to be insignificant (“adventurous”, “free”, “wild”, and “worried”), providing evidence that emotions are important in the overall enjoyment of a wine and thus preference.

It is certainly evidence that such associations are intelligible and meaningful to consumers. However, it’s not clear to me how emotional response figured into overall enjoyment. Participants were asked to rate their liking of each wine so perhaps the study correlated preferences with various emotional responses. But the conclusion has some odd implications.

If a wine conjures up negative emotions for an individual, that person is probably not going to buy that bottle of wine in the future.

This doesn’t sound right to me. The summary states that emotion terms “aggressive” and “guilty” were associated with the aromas/flavors of vanilla, clove, and licorice. And that “aggressive” was associated with astringency, meaning the coarseness of the tannins. These are all descriptors associated with big, red wines such as at least some Tempranillo. But surely we can’t conclude from this that tannic, red wines with vanilla and clove notes are unpopular because they evoke negative emotions.

In terms of relationships between emotions and specific wine styles, the study found that white wine characteristics were often associated with more positive emotions, while aged wine characteristics were associated more often with negative emotions.

It is true that aged wines are not to everyone’s taste. But among wine lovers, connoisseurs, etc. aged wines are esteemed. And in the general wine drinking public big red wines, dubbed aggressive in this study, are also much admired. So I’m a bit suspicious of the claim that wines associated with negative emotions are therefore not enjoyable. Again, as I’ve been arguing, the association is often metaphorical. We associate astringent wines with aggressive emotions but they don’t make us feel angry or afraid. It’s an association, not a direct causal relationship between the wine and an emotion. Similarly, a piece of music may express anger or fear, but we don’t feel angry or afraid when listening, and it’s that expression that we find enjoyable despite the fact the emotion may be classified as “negative”.

So we need more studies that can tease out this relationship between what is expressed, what is felt, and how these factors influence preferences.

At any rate, this is a fascinating area of research and thanks to the Academic Wino for summarizing it.