Wine Blog Daily 11/17/17

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

Jamie Goode reports on the Southern French co-op Plaimont Producteurs’ research into grape varieties that once were grown but were discarded for the wrong reasons.

Levi Dalton interviews Languedoc winemaker Samuel Guibert, producer of the unique blend Mas de Daumas Gassac, which includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Tannat, and many other varietals.

Blake Gray presents some new research that seems to show that women and men do not differ in their wine preferences.  Robert Joseph thinks the research is bunk.

Tom Wark takes Apple to task for banning the app “Where to Smoke” and worries that wine apps might receive the same treatment.

At Wine Searcher, Oliver Styles has a fascinating discussion of balance in wine and wonders why high acid wines are not considered unbalanced. has, shall we say, an unorthodox tip for surviving holiday dinners.


Lugana DOC: A Fascinating Study of Dry Extract


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luganaAt the Wine Bloggers Conference last week, I attended a session devoted to Lugana DOC, a little-known appellation in Italy located near Verona on the southern end of Lake Garda.  This is a white wine appellation, the main grape being Turbiana, which is apparently genetically identical to Verdicchio, although there is controversy about this.

I usually do not get too excited by dry Italian white wines, but these wines were extraordinary. They were noteworthy in part because of the saline minerality on the nose and palate—they smelled and tasted like the sea which nicely complemented the citrus notes. But more important was the textural depth created by usually high levels of dry extract. In fact all of the technical sheets supplied by the Consorzio  representing Lugana wineries listed the amount of dry extract along with acidity, residual sugar, alcohol, etc.

What is dry extract?

Dry extract refers to the solid particles in the wine small enough to form a powder that would be left over if all the water and alcohol were to evaporate. Dry extract accounts for some of the flavor and texture of a wine. Red wines usually have more of it, 20-30 grams per liter, than white wines which usually have 15-20 grams per liter. This is in part why red wines tend to have more body that white wines. However, the white wines from Lugana were well over 20 grams per liter sometimes approaching 30 g/l. Although crisp and lively with lots of minerality they exhibited layers of texture, ranging from fine talc to a pebbly almost chewy weave, and had a lush mouthfeel when some residual sugar was left in the wine. The wines felt structured without being heavy. They were not big wines, certainly not fat or viscous, so the identification of dry extract with weight or body is not quite accurate especially when combined with high acidity.

In Italy, dry extract is often a factor in determining the classification of a wine and its measurement is used to determine if the wine has been diluted with water. But it is not usually included in marketing materials. The Consorzia representing Lugana is actively pushing dry extract as a distinctive feature of their wines as well they should since it sets their wines apart from most of the white wines we commonly drink.

I took some very brief notes on the following wines:

La Morette Mandolara 2016

Tangerine and melon with lovely medium bodied palate and pronounced saline minerality. This was my favorite of the tasting. $20

Marangona 2016

Floral and peach notes, some herbal highlights. Very crisp but with some creaminess on the palate. $17

Famiglia Olivini “Demesse Vecchie” 2016

Lots of dry extract on the palate, quite textured with stone fruit and floral notes.

Avanzi Borghetta Lugana Riserva 2014

This sees 40% new oak for 10 months. Very spicy, a cumin note.  $15

Tenuta Roveglia Filo Di Arianna Lugana Venemmia Tardiva 2014

A lovely late harvest wine but unfortunately not available in the U.S.

If you’re searching interesting  white wines, put these on your list.

Wednesday Aggro



pet peeveThis drives me freakin’ nuts.

When wine conversations get serious, when there is something up for debate, someone always tries to shut down the controversy by  pontificating,  “after all, wine is just a beverage”.

No. Wine is not just a beverage. Orange juice, coke, milk, these are beverages. Are their 10,000 people out there blogging about orange juice? Do people give up stable, lucrative careers to make milk? Do we carefully and with rapt attention swirl and sniff coke in order to fine tune our tasting notes?

Wine is something to which some people develop a deep, emotional connection. People travel the world seeking the best wines, devour encyclopedias of information trying to understand wine quality, and spend the rent money on finding a new flavor sensation. Have you ever heard of someone having an “aha” moment when drinking rockstar?

If you were to make a list of the many things wine is, “beverage” would be at the bottom. The next time someone says “wine is just a beverage” ask yourself why they would say such a thing. The answer will not do them credit.

Wine Review: Somerset Ridge Crimson Cabernet Barrel Reserve Kansas 2014


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crimson cabCrimson Cabernet is a relatively new grape varietal, a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Norton. If you’re a West Coast wine lover (or from virtually anyplace in the world except Eastern or Midwestern United States), Norton is probably unfamiliar to you. That’s because no one grows it unless they have to. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Norton is relatively cold hardy , disease-resistant, and ripens early. But it’s a difficult grape to manage in the vineyard and it produces small berries with lots of seeds so it’s a challenge to extract enough juice in the winery. Although Norton doesn’t exhibit the “foxy” flavors of other native American grapes, and has bold, intense fruit expression, its high acidity and sometimes odd earth and vegetal aromas make it  hard to love (although it has many devoted fans in the regions that grow it). Thus it makes perfect sense to cross it with Cabernet Sauvignon to get the best of both worlds—Cabernet’s structure and refined flavors with Norton’s ripening characteristics.

Commercially available since 2011, Somerset Ridge, located a short drive southwest of Kansas City, was the first to grow Crimson Cabernet and arguably has the most experience with this new option for Midwest wineries. In addition to this fine Crimson Cabernet, Somerset Ridge is one of the few wineries in the region to successfully grow v. vinifera grapes, especially Cabernet Franc.

The Crimson Cabernet shows black cherry and freshly turned earth with touches of mint framed by shy cedar. Not quite as dark-fruited as its parent Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s aromas are threaded with floral notes that add complexity.

Blueberry wrapped in dark chocolate and coffee grace the medium-bodied palate. Tame but palpable acidity, and persistent yet gentle tannins make this quite accessible. Very well-integrated with nothing out of place, the mouthfeel is smooth but not plush as the finish, imbued with pepper and herbal notes, shows an endearing rusticity. A thoroughly enjoyable wine. Aged for 18 months in American oak, some of it new.

Not at all flamboyant but there is plenty of subdued complexity, and elegant rusticity best captured by Lyle Lovett’s My Baby Don’t Tolerate.

Score: 88

Alc: 13.5%

Price: $25  Available Here

Stags’ Leap Winery: Sometimes Big is Beautiful



1stags-leap2editIf you’re a regular reader of this blog you know I’m most interested in small wineries making unique, distinctive wines. I also indulge in some criticism of large industrial wineries and their tendency to make homogeneous wines that taste alike. But when “big wine” does something right they ought to be praised for it.

Treasury Wine Estates is by any measure a large company. According to Wine Business Monthly, in 2016, Treasury’s U.S. sales of 15,000,000 cases put them in 6th place in the domestic market. Yet, Treasury in recent years has put a lot of emphasis on their luxury brands, one of which I had the opportunity to visit recently, and I was pleasantly surprised, not only with the overall quality of their wine, but with their distinctive approach which sets them apart from what might be called a “typical” Napa flavor profile. (More on that profile in a moment)

Thanks to the 2017 Wine Blogger’s Conference, we were able to visit the Stags’ Leap Winery Estate, one of Napa’s iconic brands with a storied history. To avoid potential confusion, note the placement of the apostrophe in the name. This is not Stag’s Leap Cellars (singular possessive) founded by Warren Winiarski in 1970 whose Cabernet beat out several 1st Growth Bordeaux at the 1976 Judgment of Paris. This is the other Stags’ Leap (plural possessive), a 240-acre estate founded in 1893 by Horace and Minnie Chase. It later became one of Napa’s most important resorts, hosting some legendary bacchanals in the early 20th Century, until falling into disrepair. (During Prohibition, it featured a speakeasy, hiding below a trap door in the floor, and included the local Sheriff among their guests to ensure they were unmolested by police raids.)

stagsleap editRevitalized as a winery in 1970, it was later purchased by Beringer which was in turn purchased by Treasury in 2011.  The original buildings are still intact and maintain a semblance of rustic charm beneath the polished refinement of an estate once visited by the monied elite of San Francisco; the grounds and tasting room are lovely.

Stags’ Leap, at one time, made a lot of wine, over 100,000 cases in 2013, although Treasury’s recent focus on the luxury segment of the market may have dialed that back a bit. (I don’t have current overall production figures).  But the key to quality at Stags’ Leap is the uniqueness of their estate vineyards as well as the deft hand of winemaker Christophe Paubert. The vineyard enjoys cool breezes from the southern end of the valley but is nestled against the craggy peaks of the Vaca foothills that radiate heat. Thus, the vineyard itself has several microclimates that give the winemaker many options when deciding on the final blend.

Winemaker Christophe Paubert grew up in the wine industry in Bordeaux and brings that restrained, old-world sensibility to winemaking in the new world. His wines do not taste of the overly-concentrated, hulking opulence we’ve come to expect from Napa Cabernet. He of course endorses the reigning ideology that quality is found in the vineyard, and the winemaking should not cover up the expressiveness of the grapes. But there is an elegance to these wines that shows a remarkable understanding of the inflection points where continued maceration will make the wines feel too heavy. Despite aromatic intensity and a juicy introduction, each wine has a weightless, almost ethereal mouthfeel, and a languorous evolution and finish that will seduce you for an entire evening. The estate cuvee yields about 7000 cases annually and it is clearly a labor of love. Christophe says he checks in on each barrel every day.

The take away point is that high production wineries can produce distinctive wines if they have distinctive vineyards and choose to invest their resources into maintaining that distinction. Most don’t because it is not economical and the corporate demand for efficiency encourages cutting corners. Treasury Estates is to be commended for letting Stags’ Leap be Stags’ Leap.

Here is a brief rundown of the wines I tasted:

2016 Chardonnay Napa Valley

The only wine not made of estate grapes, this is a distinctive Chardonnay in that it undergoes no malolactic fermentation. It is fresh and lively with crisp fruit and scintillating acidity.

2014 Bock 20 Merlot Stags Leap District Estate Grown

Simply beautiful. Really one of the best Napa Valley Merlots I’ve tasted. Aromatically complex with earth, minerality and fruit sharing the stage, the layered textures and sultry finish are unforgettable.

2014 Twelve Falls Red Wine, Stags Leap District, Estate Grown

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and a little Merlot, this wine was lush and juicy with distinct Petite Sirah, berry character showing through. Surprisingly soft on the finish given the blend of grapes.

2014 The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Estate Grown

A complex nose with generous earth notes supplementing the dark cherry and cassis, this is medium bodied and slightly austere on the palate. Very well-integrated and balanced, with, once again, a characteristically elegant finish.

2014 Ne Cede Mais Petite Sirah, Stags Leap District Estate Grown

These grapes are from a fascinating vineyard block. Classic head-trained, California Sprawl, the vines were planted in 1929 and are mostly Petite Sirah with 15 other varietals, including some white-skinned grapes, mixed in. So this is a field blend. It is unusual to find Petite Sirah that is so soft on the finish, a testament to the magic of old vines.  Very spicy and floral with prominent blueberry.

Wine Review: Van Till Family Farm Winery Norton Reserve Missouri 2013



van tillNorton is Missouri’s official grape and, for a grape many wine lovers have never heard of, it has a long, storied history. In the 19th Century, this native of North America went toe-to-toe in competition with many great European wines and often did well. Prohibition ended Norton’s assault on the wine establishment, and today it is grown primarily in Missouri, Arkansas, and Virginia, all humid climates where Norton’s disease resistance makes it attractive.

Norton grapes make a very distinctive wine; there is nothing else quite like it. If you love wine and haven’t tried it, you probably should just because it’s a singular experience.

Always wild and and muscular, Norton is as subtle as a frat-boy come-on. Yet, Van Till’s version has some elegance as well. Intense, massive, musky blackberry on the nose mingle with espresso and new leather highlights, cosseted in sweet oak, not too toasty, very expressive aromatics.

In the mouth, upfront, it’s full bodied, smooth and refined although quite dense, but then a clenched fist of acidity strikes midway and relentlessly pummels the palate. The firm weave of hi-toned acidity and incisive tannins make a very peppery finish, tart with a hint of cider adding complexity. Splendid fruit power and an underlying softness balances that acidity but vinifera fans are to be forgiven if they can’t quite find the center of gravity. The fruit, acidity and tannins feel integrated but sort of like a barrage of well-tuned, power chords from 20 Marshall stacks would sound integrated.

As you can gather this is a very vibrant wine. It sees nine months of Missouri oak, giving the wine just enough warmth to be charming while all Hell breaks loose.

A perfect representation of the grape, it’s not tamed, its wild originality is preserved, yet one craves another glass.

Score: 92 when judged in its comparison class, other Nortons.

Price: $40

Alc: 12%

Pair with Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit for that power chord integration.

What’s the Matter with Writing about Good Wine?



cheap wineBlake Gray wrote a post about a month ago that still has me scratching my head. The post begins by praising the Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre for an article entitled “29 of America’s Favorite Cheap Wines, Ranked,”  calling it “ outstanding service journalism for readers of a newspaper.”

All well and good. Some readers of the Washington Post might be interested in knowing what a wine expert says about their favorite brands. But then the lamentation begins:

Yet to most Americans, that is what “wine” means. “Wine” doesn’t mean a bottle made from grapes grown on calcareous soil with native yeast fermentation in concrete tanks. “Wine” means a widely available product they can pick up at the grocery store with a predictable flavor. Most people don’t want to hear about vintage variation. They want a shelf stable fruity beverage of about 13.5% alcohol that they can quaff without thinking about it.

This is quite true but I’m not quite sure why it matters. And by the end of the article he’s in full regalia, punch-a-wine-snob mode:

In an era where we’re all electronically in touch all the time, communication has in some ways become more difficult than ever. We’re all in silos now, mostly politically, but I believe that enophiles live in our own unfortunately small wine silo.

“A small wine silo?” Really? This is what I don’t get. Why are wine lovers and wine writers remiss if we don’t pay much attention to Apothic Red or Yellowtail? Quite honestly there is very little to say about most inexpensive supermarket wines. Some of them are fine for a weeknight dinner but they aren’t interesting or compelling. I used to review a budget wine every Friday until I got so bored I began to dread Thursday evenings spent trying to find something interesting to say about something not very interesting. It has nothing to do with being in a silo; it’s about needing interesting subject matter in order to write. If all someone wants is a “shelf-stable, fruity beverage” why on earth would they care what wine writers say. Are there people who make a living reviewing orange juice?

There are people who write about cheap wine and do it well; I have all respect in the world for them. I don’t see why people who prefer to write about better wines are worthy of criticism.

The fact of the matter is that there are just under 9000 wineries in the U.S. Yet the 8 largest companies sell 60% of the wine sold in the U.S. The top 30 accounted for 74% of wine sales in 2016. These mega-companies spend millions each year on marketing and PR. They don’t need us writing about them. Their customers will buy their wine regardless of what we write.

It’s the other 8000+ wineries, most of whom will never see their wines on a supermarket shelf, that need our attention. We don’t live in a silo. We exist in different industries only one of which needs a platoon of scribes to sing their praises.

Lovely Unloveliness


aged winesAndrew Jeffords comments, “The greatest wines often have a lovely unloveliness at their heart”.

Some old friends and I chewed over (the verb is accurate) my last and much-travelled bottle of Baumard’s Clos du Papillon Savennières 2002 recently. It was reticent; it, too, had a sort of lovely unloveliness: that scent of dry straw, dry flowers and a sharp, almost rancid buttery quality, then sour green plums in the mouth, stony austerity and a little oxidative bite. We liked it all the more for the fact that it wasn’t trying to be liked.

I couldn’t agree more. There are lots of really good wines that have bright, pure fruit, great intensity and complexity, and velvet textures. Great wines, by contrast,  are deviant, they don’t conform, they have an otherworldly quality, depraved but interesting, like that guy you decided not to marry. Rancid buttery quality indeed.