Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 11/14/18



madeira vineyards

Vineyards of Madeira

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

Tom Wark asks consumers to donate to a GoFundMe project to support getting the consumer’s voice heard in the upcoming Supreme Court case supporting interstate wine shipments.

Mike Veseth, the Wine Economist, recounts the history of Madeira.

Amanda Barnes tells the story of  Mendoza’s Clos de los Siete, an enclosed vineyard owned by several producers, unusual in the new world.

The Wine Curmudgeon has the stats on his blog visitors for 2018 and is giving away more prizes for Birthday Week.

Allison Levine profiles the the Crus vineyards of Beaujolais.

Foxress is an advocate for Albarino for Thanksgiving dinner.

Susannah Gold continues her series on Italy’s indigenous varietals with Nieddera Nero, which is grown primarily in Sardinia.

Vino-Sphere profiles the wines of San Diego County, an emerging wine regions with increasing quality.

Austin Beeman shoots a short film covering harvest at Cristom Vineyards in Willamette Valley.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Wine Country Getaways profiles the city of Bordeaux.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Amber LeBeau calls New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc “the Coldplay of the wine world.” Ouch.

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Scheid Vineyards Chardonnay 2017, Monterey,

Jamie Goode reviews the Champagne Castelnau Réserve NV

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the La Posta Paulucci Malbec from Mendoza.

The Drunken Cyclist is drinking Kir Royale these days, the cocktail made with sparkling wine, using Route 23’s flavored simple syrups.

Tom Lee reviews the 2012 J. Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc Old Vines from Russian River Valley

Michelle Williams reviews several California Zinfandels.


Wine Tasting, Subjectivism and Nonsense


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wine evaluation 2Philosophy Barry Smith’s recent article in World of Fine Wine magazine hits all the right points about the rampant, mistaken view that wine tasting is thoroughly subjective. I highly recommend the whole article.

The heart of his argument for a modest objectivity in wine tasting is that even when disagreeing about a wine, we’re nevertheless responding to something in the wine:

Much of the trouble here is the flawed idea that the taste of a wine is purely subjective: wholly a matter of the sensations we undergo when tasting. The idea of taste as sensation has it that what we taste is just a private experience, in which everything is given to us immediately. It allows for no gap between what I am tasting and my experience of it. And yet, as experienced tasters know, a wine does not give up its secrets all at once, or to just anyone. It takes time, knowledge, and experience to figure out what is going on in it….

The experience of flavor depends on inputs that may vary from taster to taster depending on whether one has the tongue of a supertaster, a taster, or a non-taster. Each of us is likely to have a specific anosmia, meaning that we are “blind” to particular odors. (I know of two food and wine scientists who are insensitive to TCA, or cork taint.) It is little wonder, then, that tasting judgments diverge. But this doesn’t mean they are idiosyncractic or inexplicable, nor that they are subjective and independent of the flavors in the wine. Were one to take the line that tastes just were just the sensations of an individual—based on ignorance of the science of the taster—one would readily understand why judgments of taste would seem like mere opinions, answerable to nothing but an individual’s socially mediated responses. But that’s not how things are.

This is exactly right. In fact no one in the business of making or studying wine really believes it’s subjective. If they did they wouldn’t bother doing what they do.

In philosophy we have a concept called a “performative contradiction” which helps explain the problem with the claim that wine tasting is thoroughly subjective. Essentially the idea is that actions taken by an individual would make no sense if that individual’s statements were true. For instance, if I were to say “I am no longer capable of forming a coherent sentence”, that would be a performative contradiction since my uttering the coherent sentence contradicts the meaning of my statement.

Similarly, when winemakers or sommeliers say wine tasting is subjective they are guilty of a performative contradiction.

When winegrowers make adjustments to their canopy in order to  enhance ripening they don’t believe wine appreciation is subjective. They believe there is a standard for ripeness in grapes that, if not met, will harm the wine. When winemakers choose to punch down three times a day rather than two, it’s because they believe doing so will improve the wine. There is a level of extraction they seek which can be met or not and not doing so will be a mistake. When sommeliers studying for their exams strive to discern the identifying characteristics of a Barolo from Serralunga they do so because there is a standard they’re trying to achieve, and they can fail to achieve it or succeed.

In each case they are responsive to a standard that is independent of their beliefs about it. These standards are not arbitrary, subjective, or entirely personal. If they were there would be no consequences to not meeting these standards. You could choose any standard you wanted and if you fail to meet it choose a different standard. That just isn’t how we operate.

To believe that wine tasting is subjective is to believe that there is no expertise in winemaking or wine tasting because there is nothing to get right or wrong.

As Smith says, “But that’s not how things are.”

For more on the philosophy of wine visit my Monday Column archives on Three Quarks Daily

Wine Review: Walter Clore Columbia Crest Private Reserve Columbia Valley 2013



columbia crestWhen large industrial wineries, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, owners of the Columbia Crest brand, pause long enough in their quest for market share to make wines of genuine quality they should be praised. Neither blockbuster nor rebel, this reserve level wine is just variations on a familiar theme but it’s a well-made wine with some distinctive virtues.

Blackberry with a charming kiss of red fruit,  vanilla, chocolate and baking spices for a sense of warmth, and dusty earth for the obligatory Bordeaux reference. The nose tells you right away it wants to be taken seriously.

On the palate, the dense, lush entre turns a bit woody as the  mid-palate energy gathers, but there is no hint of sweetness to flatten the wine’s verve. In fact,  the acidity is impressive driving a steady crescendo that peaks on high tones, the tannins a presence but lurking in the background. Very dark 80%chocolate emerges to set off a red berry note, giving the medium length finish some interest. It needs a bit more oak integration but the elegance comes through nevertheless.

Lush, sophisticated, warm, stylish and  agreeable, it would make a very good date even if you had no intention of marrying someone quite this conventional.

It resonated nicely with Steely Dan’s Josie though the lyrical Josie, “a raw flame and a live wire” seems to have had a bit more game.

Technical Notes: A blend of Merlot (64%) Cabernet Sauvignon (34%) and a touch of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, aged for 26 months in mostly new French oak. The wine is an homage to Walter Clore a pioneering viticultural researcher in Washington State.

Score: 90

Price: $45 (Purchase here)

Alc: 15%

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 11/13/18



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

carbonic macerationTom Jarvis has a complete guide to carbonic maceration.

The Wine Curmudgeon lists his most popular blog posts for 2018 and conducts his first Birthday week give away.

James the Wine Guy asks “How Many Wine Grape Varieties Exist?”

Jeremy Parzen sends his best wishes to victims of the fires in California.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

The Drunken Cyclist is eating and drinking his way through Prague and Budapest

Selected Wine Reviews:

Madeline Puckette has several suggestions for Thanksgiving Wine.

Fredric Koeppel reviews the  Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda 2016, Santa Rosa, from Argentina’s Mendoza region.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the 2015  Badgerhound Zinfandel from Ammunition Wines.

Amber LeBeau reviews the Cavit Lunetta Prosecco

Jameson Fink reviews the Champagne Henriot Cuveé Hemera 2005

Food Wine Click reviews the Paetra “K” Riesling Willamette Valley 2015 with food pairings.

The Wine Daily reviews the Viader Proprietary Red Blend from Napa Valley.

Aaron Nix Gomez reviews several wines of Brunello di Montalcino from the 1980’s.

It’s Tension Not Harmony that Makes Great Wine



tense skyGreat wines have dominant flavor and aroma notes that have clarity and focus and exhibit harmony in that they have a sense of cohesion, with each element working together in an overall pattern. But these dominant aromas stand out against a background of hints and nuances, aromas that can be only dimly perceived yet give the wine a sense of depth. Such wines are described as complex because they seem to have many dimensions that persist as a penumbra around the central aromas as our attention shifts back and forth from foreground to background. This is why tasting notes often contain a seemingly endless list of aroma descriptors which can baffle less practiced tasters. The aromas can be so faint they are open to multiple interpretations and are susceptible to perceptual threshold variations among tasters. Yet, even when they cannot be clearly discerned and identified, they contribute to the depth and richness of the wine, functioning much as a mirepoix does in a sauce. The carrots, celery and onion cannot be picked out as distinct flavor notes yet they add richness to the sauce.

These background aromas often develop a character that is in tension with the foreground aromas. Especially as wines age, the dominant fruit, floral and herbal scents are surrounded by aromas that remind us of gravel, tar, barnyard, cat pee, petroleum, musk, sweaty saddle, smoke, gunflint, and bacon fat, not to mention the less prized aromas such as band aid, nail polish remover, and rotten egg. These are not pretty and introduce elements in the wine that are disruptive, deviant, in themselves often ugly.

If we think of wine as exhibiting flavor themes, these deviant aromas are clearly in tension with the dominant fruit and herbal themes. A pretty peach-and-apple-inflected Riesling from Germany’s Mosel region that begins to develop diesel fuel aromas in the bottle is acquiring tension and conflict that adds to the impression of depth. When sufficiently reticent so they don’t overwhelm the dominant fruit aromas most professional wine tasters would argue that the wine exhibits harmony. But there is an important aesthetic difference between a harmony of similar qualities vs. a harmony achieved through balanced tension with qualities that are from a different flavor world.

Beauty is at its highest intensity when there is contrast between the components that make up the experience, when the background elements of an experience are brought into the foreground. For this purpose, contrast is vital.

As the early 20th Century American philosophy Alfred North Whitehead argued:

“Contrast elicits depth, and only shallow experience is possible when there is a lack of patterned contrast.” (Adventures in Ideas, 268)

I’m not sure “harmony” is the best way to describe wines that depend on contrast for their beauty. Great wines are so much more than harmonious.

For more on the philosophy of wine visit my Monday Column archives on Three Quarks Daily

Wine Blog Daily Monday 11/12/18



cheval blanc

Domaine Cheval Blanc

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

Karen MacNeil uses the differences between food and wine to explain the importance of metaphor in wine descriptions.

Tom Wark celebrates his father, a bourbon drinker, on Veteran’s Day.

Jamie Goode argues that drinking a wine at home is a different experience than drinking the same wine in a restaurant.

Tim Gaiser distinguishes great wines from great wine experiences and the describes 5 of his most memorable experiences.

Kathleen Willcox dives into the state of modern cooperage.

Margaret Rand explores the rise of the private wine label.

Alfonso Cevola, On the Wine Trail in Italy, explores what it means to give a “master class” and develops elements that every master class should have.

The Wine Gourd explores the wine regions of Australia.

Richard Hemming works out E.J. Gallo’s share of the worlds wine market.

Amber LeBeau explores the top audiobooks on California wine history. In addition, she writes a thoughtful post on wine blogging and its relationship to other wine media.

Talk A Vino brings us the full force of New England’s colorful foliage

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode profiles Lamoreaux Landing in New York’s Finger Lakes.

Allison Levine’s Pick of the Week is the Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the 2016 Winehaven Minnesota Marquette Reserve and reviews the best Rosé Wines for under $20.

Cheap Wine Ratings profiles Washington State’s Maryhill Winery.

Cindy Rynning profiles Carmenère and reviews two from Chile’s Hacienda Araucano.

Martin Redmond’s Wine of the Day is the 2014 Bedrock Wine Co. Heritage Wine Evangelho Vineyard, a red blend from Contra Costa.

Tom Lee reviews the 2011 Carlisle Zinfandel Carlisle Vineyard

Joey Casco reviews the 2017 Suhru Pinot Grigio from Long Island’s North Fork.

JvB Uncorked recommends wines for Thanksgiving.

Red Wine Please reviews the 2015 Concha y Toro Don Melchor

Dallas Wine Chick reviews several Bordeaux-style wines from Virginia.

BC Wine Trends reviews a Cabernet Sauvignon from Hidden Chapel in the Okanagan Valley.

Budget Wine Review: George Wyndham Bin 555 Shiraz Australia 2016



george wyndhamIn the early 2000’s, Australian Shiraz was the hot new wine until they started exporting cheap, sugary plonk with cute animals on the label to keep up with demand. Soon they gained an international reputation for selling cheap, sugary plonk and the market for Australian Shiraz plummeted. If they want to get their market share back maybe they should stop selling wines like this.

Fruit forward with plum aromas, hints of chocolate and a bit of sweet oak on the simple nose. The palate has the same plum/chocolate thing going on but it’s cloying, just too sweet, with exposed wood notes midpalate and an odd sourness on the finish making the wine seem hard. An awkward wine even for the price, it has enough fruit power to wash down a pizza and the medium plus body will stand up to barbecue, but as a sipper it gives little pleasure.

Owned by the conglomerate Pernod Ricard.

A simple song, slow of pace, dark and moody will be a compatible companion, such as the Black Keys’ To Afraid to Love You.

Score: 83

Price: $10

Alc: 14.4%

Wine Blog Daily Friday 11/8/18



photo-1446413145391-40052a2477eeA daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

The Wine Curmudgeon reminisces about the old Black Tower TV commercial from 1982

The Wine Curmudgeon also announces prizes for a week long celebration of his blog’s 11th birthday which begins on Monday.

The Drunken Cyclist is giving away an evening with him at the Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco.

Alan Tardi extolls the virtues of Bardolino Rosé

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode tastes three Pinot Noirs from Franz Haas, Alto Adige, Italy

Fredric Koeppel reviews Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the AL Sauvignon Blanc from Wrath Wines, a wine in a can.

Amber LeBeau reviews the 2012 El Puntido Rioja.

The Wine Stalker reviews the 2017 Justin Bogaty Winemaker Selection Tannat from Virginia.

Pam Strayer tastes wines from indigenous Italian grapes grown organically at a book launch party for Daniele Cernelli’s The Essential Guide to Italian wine.

Le Calandre and the Challenge of Fine Dining


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crudo-w-trufflesedit2For me, the biggest challenge in fully appreciating tasting menus is the pace, even in dining rooms where the wait staff and kitchen are sensitive about the timing of the meal. It is difficult to taste each dish carefully, to understand how all the ingredients interact, to reflect on the emotional expression of the dish and how it exemplifies the chef’s style, and to write all that down for future reference all in the few minutes in which the dish is in front of you (and still hot if it’s a cooked dish). Add to that an appreciation of how the wine pairings are working while carrying on conversation with dinner companions and leaving time for pure enjoyment– it feels like a hectic day at work instead of a consummate aesthetic experience. This is why restaurant reviews are usually just lists of ingredients with an adjective or two.  Perhaps each dish should come with an information card with detailed accounts of the chef’s intention as an entrée into the meaning of the dish.

Le Calandre is a 3-star Michelin restaurant just outside of Padua, Italy, on some lists among the top 40 restaurants in the world. I was fortunate to get reservations there last summer and was, as usual, faced with this dilemma about how to fully appreciate the meal. This time I was rescued by a mighty tome written by Chef Massimiliano Alajmo available for purchase at the restaurant. It included not just recipes but conceptualizations of many of the dishes we were served that evening, along with a dialogue that goes into some detail about how he thinks about his compositions. Of course, I didn’t spend the evening reading a book. The meal was delicious and interesting, and thanks to photos, a few notes and a subsequent reading of the book I’m still “tasting” the meal.

The most telling quote from the book is this. Speaking of his signature dish, cuttlefish in black cappuccino (see below), he writes:

It was clear from the beginning that coffee wasn’t the motive. The motive as an attempt to enter into contact, or even better to communicate with the intimate part of the ingredient because nobility is intrinsic in all true and genuine elements. In them we have two components: the essential and formal parts. The essential is interior and animated. The formal is exterior and obvious, and is passive in comparison. In other words, the ingredient is the way we view it but an in-depth study is the way we communicate with it. We elevate each element through understanding with comprehensive examination not limited to the exterior….Above all, to penetrate an ingredient means to go beyond the sensorial level (sight, touch, taste…) unleashing a metaphorical charge. The symbols bound to the elements also stimulate us to search within ourselves. This is how one grows, and learns, for example, not to be limited by the palate’s simple pleasures because more profound and superior gratifications exist.

al-aimo-editedThere is a lot going on in this paragraph but I think it’s essentially right. To understand anything, including ingredients in a dish, we must understand the underlying forces at work, some of which are barely perceptible and some of which can only be accessed via feeling states. It’s the chef’s job to uncover them and make them perceptible. Some of these themes are exemplified in the tasting menu below.

Italian food is noted for its simplicity. Although these recipes are not simple to prepare, they leave an impression of simplicity on the diner. The emphasis is on trying to pull out just a few intensely bright flavors in each dish. As far as I could tell there were few if any molecular techniques employed.

Here are the courses with a few comments:

Al aimo

This is a dish of red tomato tartar, green tomato tartar, fava bean tartar, fava bean, green bean and basil salad, ricotta sauce and Sardinian flatbread. The dish exemplifies the concept of weaving with the three tartars exemplifying overlapping yet distinctive flavors. The colors also represent Italy’s tri-color flag, itself a weaving of the separate regions that formed the nation of Italy in the 19th Century.

Cuttlefish in black cappuccino cuttlefish-cappucinoedit

This dish consists of small cubes of squid and drops of squid ink in a potato cream served in layers in a vertical glass cup. A play on tiramasu and cappuccino, it comes with instructions to plunge the spoon straight down so the fusion of the layers occurs in the mouth. A simple, comforting, enveloping dish that exemplifies layering. Indeed the layers persist in the mouth even as the ingredients are fused.

Sicilian raw shrimp with tomato cream and basil

A variety of interpretations on fresh, especially the raw shrimp which was exceptionally fatty and vibrant. It came together with the wine, a St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, which cut the fat of the shrimp. As with all the dishes that included cream, it was light almost weightless.

Crispy ricotta and buffalo mozzarella cannelloni with tomato sauce

The chef calls this an anomalous calzone which represents tactility. Crispy cylinders and creamy flavors, it’s clearly a dish meant to evoke childhood memories of pizza, all the senses working overtime. Of course the tomato sauce was glowing.


Smoked tagliolini with carbonara, dried fruit, and gelatin of meat broth

Very aromatic, the fresh pasta freshly smoked and paired with a unique, Sicilian dry Moscato with a distinct smoke note as well. Despite all the smoke, the dish was light and multi-dimensional, a very deft hand with an ingredient that can overpower.

saffron-risotto-with-licoriRisotto with saffron and sorbet of licorice and rosemary

The saffron and licorice represents the extreme parts of a plant, root and flower, a dialogue between opposites. This dish is often served with licorice powder but in this case the licorice sorbet was brilliant, a thrilling contrast between hot and cold. Saffron and fennel, with its anise aromas, are a classic flavor pairing. This dish takes that concept in a new direction.

Beef tartare with black truffle, egg, cream, and star anise aroma [pictured above]

Velvety, hand chopped beef . Another dish of very fresh tasting fat with a wonderful fusion of truffle and anise aroma.

Roasted beet with burnt herbs.

The only dish that didn’t quite work for me. It was basically a well-roasted beet. Nice, attractively presented, but not intriguing.

Crisp, suckling pig  with olive sorbet, grean beans, and pea puree.

Once again the hot/cold contrast was a theme that amps up the intensity of the dish. Served with a bright, fresh, slightly bitter Amarone.suckling-pigedit

For dessert #1, an apparently empty dinner bowl was place in front of us. I just sat there waiting for the food to show up. But at the behest of the waiter, I finally flipped it over to reveal a creme brûlée in the bottom of the plate covered with a layer of gold leaf.

And finally a chocolate and hazelnut cannellone with hot chocolate foam finished the meal.

A delicious meal made more memorable by the chef’s attempt to put in words flavors too easily forgotten.


Of course I was accompanied in this culinary adventure by legal counsel. My accountant, however, had fallen ill and could not attend.

Wine Blog Daily Thursday 11/8/18



pexels-photo-274026A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

Elaine Chukan Brown promotes the European trade show ProWein as a venue for marketing U.S. wines.

Tom Wark reviews Coffee and Wine: Two Worlds Compared by Morten Scholer.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s Wine of the Week is the Tenuta Caparzo Sangiovese 2015

Amber LeBeau provides an insider’s peak into Champagne.

Julien Miquel reports that Château Latour becomes the first 1st Growth to be Certified Organic for its red wine

Outwines head is about to explode as she prepares for an exam on bubbly

Bob on Sonoma classifies categories of wine tourists.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts

Jamie Goode visits De La Terre in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

1 Wine Dude profiles Somontano, a little known appellation in Spain.

The Drunken Cyclist spends a few days in Budapest.

Quentin Sadler visits Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Tom Plant visits several wineries in San Diego County’s Ramona Valley.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel reviews nine savory white wines ideal for autumn.

Reverse Wine Snob discovers the best Italian wines for under $20.

Tom Lee’s Zinfandel of the month is the 2016 Bedrock Wine Co. Zinfandel Old Vine

Food Wine Click compares Washington and California Merlot

wineORL enjoys a vertical tasting of three vintages from Christian Moueix Ulysses.

Pull That Cork reviews the Chalk Hill Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Cyndy Rynning reviews the Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 from Napa Valley

Appetite for wine profiles Farmhouse Wines, affordable natural wine from Cline Family Cellars.