The Eagle Soars

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sceaming eagleWhen hanging out with wine people, I am sometimes asked what is the best wine I’ve tasted. The answer is easy—Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009. This announcement is usually met with smirks and side eyes. “I’m tired of over-priced, over-ripe, over oaked Napa cult wines.  I’m more into finesse” is the typical response.

I smirk right back because it’s obvious the speaker has never tasted Screaming Eagle. It’s neither over-ripe nor over-oaked.  Ethereal, transcendent in its weightlessness and finesse, yet rich and intense, it shares few similarities with Napa fruit bombs. (My tasting notes are here.) Whether it’s worth the price is of course a different question. (It’s now selling for $3200 per bottle)

I understand why so many are down on Screaming Eagle. It’s unaffordable and unavailable and it’s a human, all too human tendency to resent what you can’t have.

No less an authority than Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, agrees with my regard for Screaming Eagle.

A recent morning tasting Screaming Eagle has convinced me of one thing: it doesn’t scream. But it does soar with such an incredible lightness of being it hardly seems corporeal. I was more than impressed with the wine. I was moved by it.

Her description of the winery is telling:

Screaming Eagle is a small unadorned vineyard dotted by some dilapidated red barns. Not fancy new barns made to look old. Actual worn-down old barns with old pick-up trucks in front of them. And a couple of old black labs splayed out in the cool shade of the trucks. Until a simple crush pad and rectangle of a winery was built, the original owner Jean Phillips made wine in stone building smaller than a single car garage.

That doesn’t exactly scream Napa does it?

One could of course raise questions about why Screaming Eagle is so expensive. It is obviously rare and in high demand but is supply intentionally limited to maintain prices? Who knows. MacNeil doesn’t.

In the end, I don’t know why Screaming Eagle costs what it does any more than I know why Petrus or the DRC wines cost what they do. But I do know this: wines that emotionally move you are rare. They are wines one should listen to.

Fans of old world icons may be skeptical but to my mind Screaming Eagle is worthy of being mentioned with the likes of Petrus and DRC. I’ve had the opportunity to taste “the Eagle” twice (the other vintage was 2012) and it has never let me down unlike some top brands from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

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Wine Blog Daily Monday 10/15/18

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Moet Chandon

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

Tom Wark has an informative post on the wine retailer shipping case that is before the Supreme Court.

Jamie Goode takes on the anti-pleasure crowd.

Rob McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank warns that grape supplies are beginning to outstrip demand.

The Wine Gourd has data on how aware wine consumers are of various wine regions.

Alfonso Cevola, On the Wine Trail in Italy, writes about the rise of the Italian wine specialist.

Austin Beeman completes a series of interviews with winemaker Mac McDonald of vision cellars.

Amber LeBeau reports on what we know so far about the Master Sommelier cheating scandal.

The Wine Daily reports on pop singer Pink’s launch of her Two Wolves Wine.

Pam Strayer reports that the French owned Anderson Valley winery Domaine Anderson (the still wine winery of Roederer Estate in Mendocino) has now certified its winery organic

Travel Wine Chick interviews Gary Lipp of COHO Wines in Napa.

Foxress has the basics on various styles of Sherry.

Crushed Grape Chronicles has an overview of the 2018 Wine Blogger’s Conference recently held in Walla Walla.

Talk A Vino summarizes their trip to the Wine Blogger’s Conference.

Home winemaker Susannah Gold keeps us up to date on her latest adventures in wine making.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Karen MacNeil visits Screaming Eagle and comes away impressed.

Vino Sphere visits the Red Mountain District of South Central Washington and compares several of their Cabernet Sauvignon with others throughout the world.

Wine Travel Eats visits Robert Renzoni Vineyards in Temecula.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Markham Vineyards Merlot 2015, Napa Valley,

Jamie Goode reviews the Libiamo Amphora Chenin Blanc 2017 Gisborne, New Zealand

Jamie Goode also has tasting notes on several South African wines tasted on his recent visit.

Tom Lee reviews the 2013 Bedrock Wine Co. Heritage Wine Nervo Ranch from Alexander Valley

Amber LeBeau reviews the 2011 Rabbit Ridge Petit Verdot from Paso Robles.

Food Wine Click heroically shares a Merlot/food pairing for every day of the week.

Martin Redmond reviews the 2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot from Napa paired with Penne Boscaiola.

Cindy Rynning reviews several premium Merlots in celebration of #MerlotMe month

Red Wine Please reviews the current line up of Malbecs from Bodega Catena Zapata

Foxress profiles Red Mountain Washington winery Force Majeure.

Cheap Wine Ratings reviews the 2017 Casillero del Diablo Red Blend  from Chile.

Budget Wine Review: Chateau St Jean Cabernet Sauvignon California 2016

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chateau st jeanEveryone needs a wine to take to a party of people who don’t drink much of it. This can be that wine.

Chateau St. Jean is a long-lived fixture in Sonoma’s wine scene with an inaugural vintage in 1974. Now owned by the conglomerate Treasury Wine Estates, they still produce good wines at the reserve and Cinq Cépages level.

This is their entry level Cabernet Sauvignon and while it kinda, sorta has Cab-like aromas, it is too sweet for Cab lovers and you have to hunt for tannins with a divining rod.

This is definitely made for the easy drinking crowd. If you don’t mind a little sweetness it doesn’t offend.

Good aroma intensity with plum, blackberry, with a raisin undercurrent, and thin layer of dust. The palate is rendered in chocolate-covered cherries, smooth without being particularly lush, but a spark of acidity on the finish comes to the rescue and it finishes dry and short. Medium plus body but feels cumbersome in the mouth.

Score: 84

Price: $12 (Purchase information)

Alc: 13.8%

 

Wine Blog Daily Friday 10/12/18

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Madeira-Terrantez-1795A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

Tom Wark comments on the 2016 discovery in New Jersey of a cache of old Madeira from the late 18th and early 19th Century.

Elaine Chukan Brown has further details on the Court of the Master Somm scandal.

Wine Searcher is reporting the identity of the somm who allegedly leaked the wine list in the Court scandal.

The Wine Curmudgeon strongly objects to the U.S Pizza Museum’s lack of a wine exhibit.

Kelly Magyarics explains biodynamics and why it’s becoming so popular.

Miquel Hudin announces the publication of a new wine magazine, Root &Vine.

Wine to Five Podcast this week covers fall flavors in food and drink.

Susannah Gold continues her series on Italian indigenous varietals with a discussion of Neretto di Bairo which hails from Piemonte.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Jamie Goode profiles New Zealand’s Ant MacKenzie and his label Craft Farm.

Wine Country Getaways extolls the virtues of Yakima Valley as a wine country destination.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Reverse Wine Snob reviews three Matsu wines from Toro, Spain.

Amber LeBeau reviews the 2017 Santa Julia Torrontes from Mendoza, Argentina.

Brianne Cohen reviews two sherries from Gonzalez Byass, a palo cortado and an amontillado.

Are Wine Reviews Aimed Primarily at Purchasing Decisions?

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wine reviewAlthough wine writing takes diverse forms, wine evaluation is a persistent theme of much wine writing. When particular wines, wineries or vintages are under discussion most wine writers at some point address quality often using a numerical score to represent their assessment.

But if, as readers, we are to make a judgment about whether an evaluation is legitimate or not we must know what its purpose is. What are these evaluations aiming to achieve? Is wine criticism similar to film, book, or art criticism? Or is it more akin to the evaluation of consumer products? The practice of using a numerical score to indicate quality is controversial and much has been written about it. But an assessment of that practice depends on answering this question about the goal or goals of wine criticism.

I suspect the most popularly held view is that the goal of wine criticism is to help consumers make purchases or decide which wine to experience. Positive evaluations are used by winery PR departments to help sell wine. Wine shops use “shelf talkers” which include some evaluative language to guide consumers toward a decision about what to buy. The alleged purpose of wine scores is to give consumers, who may not be well versed in the arcane language of wine evaluation, an easy way to judge whether a wine is worth buying. Many wine evaluations include reference to the wine’s price and the degree to which it provides value. In fact, investors decide on which wines or wine futures to purchase for long term investment based almost entirely on a critic’s judgments about the quality of individual wines or vintages.

No doubt reviews are sometimes used to make purchasing decisions. That is not in dispute. The question is whether this is the primary or constitutive aim of a wine review. In other words, is the practice of providing consumers with information intended to influence their purchases part of the essential nature of wine reviews or do the reviews serve some larger purpose?

It seems to me that purchasing decisions are not the primary function of wine reviews. If that is their primary function why are there few negative reviews? Surely directing people away from a bad purchase is as important as directing them toward a good one. Consumer reviews of other products can often be quite scathing but we don’t see that kind of negative review in wine very often. Publications such as the Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast decline to review wines that fall below their standards despite the fact that such a review might be informative for their readers when making a purchase.

Furthermore, with the exception of the brief tasting notes in publications such as Wine Spectator, wine reviews usually provide context for their evaluation, pointing out similarities and differences compared to other wines in its comparison class, noting factors regarding wine making and viticulture that influence the wine, and discussing the history of the winery and its story. In other words, such reviews seem designed to enhance the experience of tasting the wine by giving it meaning. It’s true that lending meaning and context might influence someone’s decision about what to buy. But it is also the case that this kind of information enhances the experience while enjoying the wine after purchase and can be useful even after the wine is consumed, cementing one’s memory of the experience and providing knowledge of its significance. In other words, for reviews that provide context there is no reason to privilege the purchase decision as the primary target of the review. (Just a personal anecdote: I almost never read wine reviews prior to purchasing. I don’t need them for that purpose. I do read them after tasting the wine and taking my notes in order to learn more about what I’m tasting. But in addition  I like to check my impressions against others who have tasted the wine because it teaches me something about my own palate and preferences.)

Finally, many wine reviews are of wines that no ordinary mortal can afford or are not available because the wines are fully allocated. This it seems to me is the most important objection to the view that wine criticism is primarily aimed at influencing purchases. If wines are fully allocated or to be delivered only to wine club members they are already purchased, which precludes the review from having that sort of influence. Yet tasting notes are usually included in shipments of allocated wine. Thus, they must be serving some other purpose.

What that purpose is will be the subject of a future post but I think we should set aside the view that the constitutive aim of wine reviews is a purchasing decision.

Wine Blog Daily Thursday 10/11/18

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

W. Blake Gray admits his guilty pleasure from the past, and he’s still guilty.

The Drunken Cyclist has photos from the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Walla Walla.

Jeremy Parzen comments on the Master Sommelier exam scandal that cost 23 newly minted Masters their title.

Amber LeBeau gathers information on Bordeaux focusing especially on Chateau Angélus.

Bob on Sonoma criticizes wine marketing for not including more African Americans.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts

Jamie Goode profiles Fulkerson Winery in the Finger Lakes.

Selected Wine Reviews:

1 Wine Dude profiles Troon Vineyards from Oregon’s Applegate Valley

The Wine Curmudgeon’s Wine of the week is Garofoli Superiore Macrina 2017, an Italian white wine.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the 2015 Mercer Horse Heaven Malbec.

Tom Lee reviews the 2005 Domaine Saint Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve Auguste Favier

Dallas Wine Chick reviews several premium Merlots and a line up of Ravenswood’s Single Vineyard Zinfandel

wineORL reviews several Rosés from grower-producers in Champagne.

Larry the Wine Guy reviews the 2015 Chateau La Bonnelle Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

Walla Walla Continues the Love Affair

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The Blue Mountains near Walla Walla

One reason I find wine fascinating is that wine lovers form a genuine aesthetic community organized around a shared interest in appreciating the aesthetic qualities of wine. There are of course commercial interests involved. Wine isn’t liquid manna—someone must make it and that requires substantial resources. There are those in the wine industry for whom wine is nothing more than a way to make a quick (or slow) dollar. But they are a minority. Most people are in the wine business because they love wine for its intoxicating flavors, infinite variations,  and the sense of celebration and community that wine enables.

It is intoxicating to be among people who have a deep love of an aesthetic object, because love can cut through the ulterior motives and manipulative agendas of modern life and revel in moments of pure enjoyment.

That is the magic of the Wine Bloggers Conference, which held its 11th meeting this past weekend in Walla Walla Washington. The vast majority of wine bloggers earn no money from their efforts and posts can often take hours to write. We do it simply because we love wine and enjoy writing about it. When we get together it is really all about the wine—and at the conference there was lots of wine to sample. The conference is in part supported by local wineries and winery associations, who pour their wines and tell us their stories hoping we will write about them.

There is of course a transactional element. The wineries want us to talk and write about them; the bloggers would love to get free wine samples. And most of the workshops and informational sessions are about how to increase your media reach and influence. But none of that would matter if we didn’t love the aesthetic qualities of wine.

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Three Rivers Winery

The hosting wineries go all out to impress, throwing lavish dinners to show off their wines. Where else will you find such a concentration of wine lovers most of whom have a good deal of wine knowledge and tasting expertise? Does it pay off for them in dollars and cents?

I doubt it.

But winemakers and winery owners love wine as well, take intense pride in their art, and it’s a chance for them to engage with people who understand and appreciate what they’re doing. If it sounds like a big party, well, yeah, that is the point.

For example, through the luck of the draw, for our Saturday mystery dinner, a group of about 20 attendees were chauffeured to Three Rivers Winery, a mid-size producer of mostly Bordeaux varietals with a Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling to round out their lineup. Winemaker Holly Turner decided she wanted to serve her ideal menu of favorite dishes so she brought in CIA-trained Chef Matt Antonich and his team from Coer d’Alene, Idaho to meticulously pair Three River’s best wines with an elaborate five course dinner.

The menu: King crab saffron risotto with seared scallops; an Elk Chop with huckleberry gastrique, elk demi glace and fresh chanterelle; Cabernet braised lamb shank with roasted tomato/lamb glace over blue cheese corn grits;  an Impossible burger-filled empanada with red mole, tomatillo verde with queso fresco and chipotle lime sour cream; and for dessert pear poached in Riesling served with huckleberry mousse and vanilla bean Frangelico cream.

desserteditThe meal was lavish, over-the-top delicious, and inventive. The wine pairings were spot on reflecting a very careful, detailed approach in developing the dishes.

I enjoyed all the wines, especially the 2016 Trivulet, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. But for me the show stopper was their 2016 Malbec which had great balance and life on the palate. Holly Turner spent a year working in Argentina as she was learning the wine business and that background is reflected in her skill with Malbec.

Could Holly and her team have made do with a less impressive meal? Of course. But that isn’t what lovers do.

Wine communities such as Walla Walla host events like this in order to increase their profile and visibility among the wine community. To succeed, they must create memories. Ordinary, good-enough-to-get-by events will not be memorable. The folks in Walla Walla get it.

Many thanks to the Walla Walla community, the conference organizers Zephyr Conferences, and especially Three Rivers Winery (and the many others who exceeded expectations) for the wonderful memories from this weekend.

Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 10/10/18

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

Mike Veseth, The Wine Economist, wonders if the Prosecco boom is sustainable,

Winemaker Allison Crowe reports on how the 2018 vintage in Napa and Sonoma is taking shape.

Margaret Rand makes the case for Sherry as a value wine.

Jamie Goode airs his views about how we can effect change.

Golfer Phil Michelson is good at popping corks at the Korbel Spray-off,  reports Tom Wark.

The Wine Curmudgeon covers smoke taint, wine advice, and non-alcoholic booze.

L.M. Archer profiles the sparkling wine of Willamette Valley.

Alison Levine profiles Argentinean winemakers Susana Balbo and her son José Lovaglio Balbo

Lisa Johnston reviews the Kelvin K2 wine monitor, a device that keeps track of the temperature of the wine while in bottle.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Jamie Goode profiles Tony Bish an urban winery in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

Lisa Johnston explores Bordeaux, the city behind the wine.

The Good Vitis continues his visit to Willamette Valley visiting Tendril Cellers and Belle Pente Winery.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Ramey Wine Cellars Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley

The Reverse Wine Snob reviews Hope Estates The Ripper Shiraz 2014 from Geographe Western Australia.

Tom Lee reviews the 2002 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla Valley.

The Gourmez profiles D-Cubed Cellars and their many Napa Valley Zinfandels

Amber LeBeau reviews the 2014 Ch. de la Perriere Beaujolais cru from Brouilly.

Wine Review: Ser Winery Graciano John Smith Vineyard San Benito County 2015

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ser gracianoNatural wine has a (for the most part undeserved) reputation for being funky or rough, but Ser Winery’s whole lineup is as polished  as a river stone. Nicole Walsh makes about 1000 cases of low intervention wines using fruit from vineyards in and around Santa Cruz and the Cienega Valley. (She also helped develop and continues to manage Randall Grahm’s Popelouchum Vineyard). Like most winemakers associated with the natural wine movement, she uses native yeasts, neutral oak and minimal sulfur to make wines that express the character of the varietal, vineyard and vintage. The result, in Ser’s case, is wines of sophistication and refinement.

Graciano is a relatively rare grape in California. It hails from Spain where it is used in Rioja as a blending partner for Tempranillo to add structure and aromatics. It was a real treat to find it as a varietal wine at Ser where it is blended with 3% Tempranillo.

It’s beautifully crafted with pretty aromas of blueberry, threaded with violets against background hints of candied fruit and earth. On the palate, juicy fruit is accented by a spiced, wood note gracefully balanced by a seam of vibrant acidity that persists from prelude to finish. Glossy and caressing with refined tannins, there is a leisurely upward motion as the wine glides toward its mouthwatering finish.

Concise, confident, yet tender with a languid ease like Norah Jones’ Don’t Know Why

Technical Notes: From mountain vineyards, mostly dry farmed, 5-6 day cold soak, 6 day maceration after fermentation, aged in neutral French oak puncheons for 18 months.

Score: 91

Price: $32 (Purchase Here)

Alc: 14%

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 10/9/18

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photo-1502624753130-3bfbdf71c320A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

The Wine Curmudgeon reports on the state of value wine in 2018

Winemaker Nova Cadamatre reports on the 2018 vintage in Napa and the Finger Lakes

The Wine Gourd reports on the distribution of wineries in the U.S.

Tom Wark reports on a study by Sonoma State MBA students about wine drinking habits across generations.

Jo Diaz has a report from Georges Deboeuf on the 2018 vintage in Beaujolais.

Amber LeBeau proposes a solution to a recent study showing wine consumption is lagging behind beer and spirits among millennials.

Artisan Swiss responds to the controversy over replica wines prompted by Christy Canterbury’s recent blog post.

Foxress reports on her visit to the new vineyard site of Force Majeur Winery and a potential, future sub-appellation in the North Fork area of Walla Walla just across the border in Oregon.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts

Jamie Goode visits the very fine Hermann J Wiemer Winery in Finger Lakes.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the 2014 Weingut Winter Dittelsheim Riesling from Rhinehessen.

Meg Houston Maker reviews the NV Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé Champagne

Fredric Koeppel reviews the 2017 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc.

Amber LeBeau reviews the 2011 Lynch-Bages.