Budget “Wine” Review: Morse Code Shiraz Southern Australia 2015



morse codeOy. Aromas of ripe blackberry, meat, and mint highlights are  simple but pleasant. But the palate? It feels plush at first but quickly turns hard as an anvil, thin, and sour—and it goes downhill from there, the finish a crescendo of bitter, a diorama of ruin.

This is a travesty, maybe the worst wine I’ve tasted all year.

I pulled up some metal with an appropriate title, the Wait’s Killing Joke, which fleshed out the midpalate a bit but nothing redeems this wine.

Morse Code is an entry-level brand of Henry’s Drive. I can’t think of anything more likely to drive someone to drink beer. What does it say about Bevmo that it carries this crap?

Score: 78

Price: $13

Alc: 14%


Wine Blog Daily Friday 7/20/18


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

us openIf you’re loaded with cash it’s worth knowing that there are only a few bottles left of one of the best wines every made—Vega Sicilia’s 1962 Unico.

Tom Wark plugs Art.com as the best place to buy wine-related art.

The Wine Curmudgeon profiles the upcoming U.S. Open wine tasting championship.

Jeremy Parzen profiles Alta Langa, the Piedmontese sparkling wine appellation.

Wine to Five Podcast chats about the wines of Mexico with sommelier Sandra Fernández Gaytán

Jamie Goode finds deliciousness at Bar Raval in Toronto.

Selected Wine Reviews:

W. Blake Gray profiles the Master Somm-run Gramercy Cellers from Walla Walla.

1Wine Dude tastes through a line up of Lucien Albrecht’s legendary Alsatian wines at a Philly oyster house.

Fredric Koeppel has high praise for the Maryhill Proprietor’s Reserve Albariño 2017, from Columbia Valley.

Vino-Sphere tastes through the line up at Livermore’s Murrieta’s Well.

The Drunken Cyclist continues his pursuit of “true rosé” with an extensive lineup from California and Oregon.

Is Natural Wine a Style or a Method?


natural wineI’ve just started exploring natural wine, visiting with several natural winemakers as we make our way through the Central Coast. I’m already a bit puzzled by what counts as “natural”. The most prominent promoter of natural wine, Alice Feiring, defines it as “nothing added, nothing taken away except a little sulfur if necessary.” So no cultured yeast, minimal SO2, no additives, no filtration, and no chemicals in the vineyard. That seems straightforward enough.

But I was talking to a winemaker (who will remain nameless) last week who told me his wines meet all those conditions but are not accepted in the natural wine community. His grapes are organic, his yeasts are native, there is no filtering or fining, he uses only neutral oak barrels, and adds just a little sulfur at bottling, well below the permissible threshold of 20 ppm.

So what sin has he committed? His alcohols are high compared to most other natural wines, coming in at around 15% for Syrah and Cab. He picks a little riper than some, around 23 brix, uses very extended macerations lasting several months so extractions are high, but the main culprit is evaporation from the barrels which eliminates water leaving more alcohol behind. His wines are powerful but elegant and well balanced with extraordinary complexity and life and no trace of excessive heat from the alcohol.

What puzzles me is why modestly higher alcohol disqualifies a wine from being natural. It is true that most of the natural wines I’ve tasted thus far have been on the light side, restrained and balanced, with prominent acidity and minerality. But that is a stylistic consideration. Some people enjoy power, some enjoy restraint but this decision has nothing to do with whether a wine is made without additions.

If natural winemaking is a particular method of making wine driven by moral and aesthetic imperatives to allow a purer expression of the grapes, I don’t see why modestly high alcohol is disqualifying. On the other hand, if it’s a style that requires lighter body and less power then it’s just a preference that loses whatever claim it has to be morally and aesthetically distinctive. There is nothing new or particularly noteworthy about light bodied wines.

It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out as I gain more understanding of how this community works.

Wine Blog Daily Thursday 7/19/18


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

vineyards in provence

Vineyards in Provence

Tom Wark reports on scams and frauds in the wine business.

Jameson Fink’s latest podcast covers Provence rosé with Roger Voss.

Jeremy Parzen investigates, Can a cloudy Barolo from the 70s still be good?

The Drunken Cyclist begins to recount the worst 10 days in his life.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Food Wine Click explores the southern tip of Burgundy with Domaine Chevrot & Fils.

Selected Wine Reviews:

The Wine Curmudgeon’s wine of the week is the Banfi Centine Toscana 2017

Cindy Rynning reviews several canned wines which are ideal for taking to the beach.

Pull That Cork reviews the 2015 Brkić Greda Žilavka, Mostar from Bosnia Herzegovina. Žilavka is the grape varietal.

Tom Lee reviews the 2004 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Aaron Nix-Gomez completes his survey of very old Italian wines with a tasting of several from unknown producers.

How Much Agreement Should We Expect from Wine Critics?


wine evalutionDavid Morrison’s recent posts on agreement between wine critics (amateur and professional) got me thinking about what it would be reasonable to expect from wine evaluations that use scores. Wine critics are like everyone else. We have different backgrounds and histories, different educational experiences, different preferences, different sensitivity thresholds for flavor compounds, good days and bad days, different susceptibilities to distractions, etc. The discipline of wine tasting over many years would surely mitigate some of those differences to a degree but only to a degree.

This is compounded by the inherent problems with wine scores that I’ve discussed here.

So how much agreement is it reasonable to expect? Many people claim, myself included, that while critics might disagree about the precise quality of wine, there should be broad agreement about which quality level a wine belongs in. No experienced critic should put Two Buck Chuck or Crane Lake in the category of a classic, great wine or put Lafitte in the category with bottom shelf Merlot from Walmart. In other words, critics should agree about basic quality level while disagreeing about gradations within a quality level. This is because broad criteria such as complexity, intensity, balance, flaws, or typicity are reasonably objective standards for people who know what to look for.

How does that hypothesis fare with regard to Morrison’s data? It’s hard to find data where wine critics go head to head on the same bottles. But David found one—the 1996 Cabernet challenge in which James Suckling and James Laube tasted 10 California Cabs and 10 Bordeaux wines from two vintages. 40 bottles is still a small sample but it is what we have to work with. The results according to David:

To me, there is a wide spread of points in the graph — the scores differ by up to 9 points, with 5 of the bottles differing by more than 6 points. Furthermore, the mathematical correlation indicates only 29% agreement between the two sets of scores.

29% is dreadful. Even when agreement is defined as plus or minus 2 pts., allowing for close scores to count as agreement, the  percentage is only 58% agreement.

But this is predictable. Given the individual differences noted above we would expect substantial disagreement in the range of plus or minus 2 points.

Happily, David adds a further graph that measures the degree of agreement in placing wine in quality categories. He uses the Wine Spectator’s categories:

95 – 100 Classic: a great wine
90 – 94   Outstanding: a wind of superior character and style
85 – 89  Very good: a wine with special qualities
80 – 84  Good: a solid well-made wine
75 – 79  Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
50 – 74   Not recommended

Here is the graph:

At first blush this doesn’t look good for my thesis that we should find substantial agreement on basic quality. Bottles within the boxes are wines in which the two critics agree about basic quality level. But only 25 of the 40 wines appear in the boxes, 63% agreement. Not so good.

But I think we need to take a second look at this. If it is unreasonable to expect less than plus or minus 2 pts for wines within a quality level, it is unreasonable to expect less than plus or minus 2 pts for wines between quality levels. In other words, if Laube assigns 90 points to a wine and Suckling assigns 88 points to the same wine, this chart treats them as disagreeing about basic quality even though the disagreement is only two points. The cut off points between quality levels are rather arbitrary.

It seems to me the right way to look at this is to allow some imprecision on the borders of the quality levels as well. I spot 3 wines just outside the boxes where the discrepancy is plus or minus 2. That moves the agreement to 28 out of 40 wines or 70% agreement. If we move the margin to plus or minus 3 pts. we get an additional 4 wines within the boxes. That’s 32 of 40 or 80% agreement.

Which brings me back to my original question. How much agreement should we expect? It seems to me given the inherent lack of precision in the assignment of scores, a disagreement of 3 points on basic quality is a reasonable expectation. On that standard the 80% level of agreement on basic quality is about what we should expect. After all the criteria we use to determine basic quality—complexity, intensity, balance, typicity, obvious flaws etc.—are subject to some of the same individual differences that other measure of wine quality are subject to. Disciplined tasting over many years should mitigate them to some extent but can’t eliminate them.

But an 80% rate of agreement within a range of 3 pts. should set aside notions that it’s all subjective and there is no such thing as wine quality. If that we true the 80% agreement would be hard to explain.

Wine Blog Daily Wednesday, 7/18/18


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

roussillonThe Wine Economist discovers the invisible cooperative wineries in Roussillon and Languedoc.

Tim James writes on the difficulty of describing great wines.

Duckhorn buys Kosta Browne.

The Wine Curmudgeon remembers Virginia legend Dennis Horton, and casts aspersions on wine wholesalers and weed, and more nonsense from Champagne.

Jeremy Parzen discusses Chianti Classico in a seminar put on by their consortium.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jameson Fink reviews the  2017 Rodney Strong Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir

The Good Vitis profiles vintae, a wine company in the Spanish region of Toro with an interesting marketing approach.

Allison Levine profiles Giuseppe “Beppe” Caviola, Italy’s “flying winemaker” and his Ca’Viola line.

The Reverse Wine Snob reviews the The Locations F French Wine from Dave Phinney.

Tom Lee reviews the 2011 Switchback Ridge Merlot from Napa.

Vino-Sphere reviews 3 wines from Montefioralle, their Chianti Classico 2015, Riserva 2014 and Vin Santo.

Michelle Williams reviews several wines from Sonoma’s Pedroncelli Vineyards paired with a grilled Italian Sausage recipe.

Wine Review: Armida Zinfandel Maple Vineyard Dry Creek Valley 2015


, ,

armidaArmida makes small lot, vineyard designated wines from various vineyards in Sonoma County including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and several scintillating Dry Creek Zinfandels like this one from Maple Vineyards.

Aromas of ripe blackberry, coffee, chocolate and a subtle background of sweet oak are warm and inviting. But the wine really shines on the palate. Round and juicy up front, it abandons the sofa for a jog in the park turning peppery on the midpalate, zesty and bursting with enthusiasm despite showing some heft.

A dusty earth and dried flower component at the end of the midpalate receives textural support from a layer of soft fruit in the bass line with a bristly, chiseled seam on top that launches a long, flavorful finish with good fruit expression all the way to terminus.

Celebratory and rousing but it stays connected to its warm, soothing side, a wine of consolation and a fine match for Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes.

Technical Notes: From dry-farmed 85 yr. old vines, aged for 16 months in a mix of French, American, and Hungarian oak.

Score: 91

Price: $42

Alc: 14.2

Review based on an industry sample

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 7/17/18


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

landscape-1524808_960_720Randy Caparoso writes about the premiumization of Lodi wines.

Trump’s trade wars are hurting American distillers.

The Wine Curmudgeon explains why The Handmaid’s Tale wine is a very bad idea.

Jameson Fink has some thoughts on Chilean wine inspired by winemaker Rodrigo Soto of Veramonte Winery.

Alice Feiring laments the last bottle of a favorite brand and recommends Le Vin en Question, the famous pre-dinner interview with natural wine grandfather, Jules Chauvet now in a new translation.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts

Pull That Cork interviews Karen and John Troisi of Sonoma’s Jean Edwards Cellars.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel reviews Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir 2017

Jamie Goode reviews Champagne Salon Le Mesnil 1985 France.

Red Wine Please finds a good Cabernet Sauvignon for $15, the 2015 Z. Alexander Brown Uncaged

Miquel Hudin reviews the Vicente Gandía Bobal Único 2015.

Aaron Nix Gomez reviews various, very old mostly Italian wines made from the Barbera grape.

Wine Travel Eats samples several wines from Napa producers Inman Family Wines.

The Two Worlds of Chianti Classico


, , ,

a-tuscan-villageThe old school vs. new school trope gets a work out in Chianti.

Gardens-at-badia-a-ColtibuoAfter our brief flirtation with Florence, our tour headed south toward the Chianti Classico region of Gaiole with the first stop at Badia a Coltibuono (Abbey of the Good Harvest), an historic and highly regarded Chianti producer. This winery’s history reaches back to the 11th Century when Vallombrosan Monks founded the abbey and began planting vineyards. Records indicate they planted Sangiovese grapes and were among the first to plant olive trees in the region.

Fun fact: The monks drank about 4 liters of wine per person per day because their water was contaminated.

Over many centuries, the monks developed a flourishing wine business until 1810 when they were forced out by Napoleon and the winery put up for sale. In 1846, Coltibuono was bought by Guido Giuntini, a Florentine banker and great grandfather of Piero Stucchi-Prinetti, the present owner, whose children now run the winery. They own 64 hectares of organic vineyards with properties that include a bed and breakfast and restaurant, producing about 400,000 bottles per year.

The facility we toured is now used only for storage and hospitality–highlights include gorgeous gardens, a 16th Century cistern used to collect rain water, still in use today,cistern several very old frescoes (that were covered with plaster to protect them from Napoleon’s depredations), frescoes

botti-with-moldand some of the funkiest storage cellars you will ever see. The inches-thick black stuff on the walls and ceiling of their barrel room is mold that has been forming for centuries. Winery personnel claim the mold is essential for the aging process. It helps maintain the humidity in cellars without having to use expensive humidifiers, thus preventing excess evaporation which would increase alcohol levels and reduce volume.

Badia a Coltibuomo is a traditional Chianti producer using 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, and Colorino in their basic Classico wine, which is aged in large botti that hold 3000 bottles, and are as much as 50 yrs. old.

The wines stood up well to their reputation. Even the entry level Chianti Classico 2015 had some complexity showing earth, a bit of tarragon and savory balsamic notes. The Riserva level 2013, which spent 2 years in oak and 2 years in the bottle, with grapes harvested from 45-50 year old vines,  had a beautiful earthy/ floral nose and impressive structure, round and full with a long finish. The 2009 Riserva was even more impressive, very elegant yet still firm in structure, developing aromas of wet leaves, tobacco, coffee and dark chocolate. For a traditional flavor profile I highly recommend these wines which are affordable and available in the U.S.

After departing Badia a Coltibuono we headed into the hills for lunch at Ristorante Le Contrade. This restaurant is in the middle-of-nowhere with sweeping views of the countryside. The lunch was this inventive trio of hot and trio of cold dishes—the star of the show was the “cappuccino” of frothy parmesan cheese topped with truffle, with runner up the boned quail stuffed with foie gras and lentils.


tolainiAfter lunch we headed to the southernmost part of Chianti Classico in the Castelnuovo Berardenga zone where Tolaini Winery is located. This is a much more modern approach to winemaking. After leaving his native Tuscany in 1956 to make enough money to start a winery, Pier Luigi Tolaini founded one of the largest trucking companies in North America. After 40 years in the transportation business he returned to pursue his true passion of making great wine. With his mechanical background, Pier created a state-of-the-art tractorgravity-flow production system with unique, two chamber fermentation tanks and his own custom tractors that fit between the rows of their tightly spaced vines.  The theory behind his viticulture is that hi-density planting, 7000-11000 plants per acre, will force the plants to compete driving the rootstocks deeper into soil seeking water and minerals. That high density planting makes this specialized tractor necessary in order to do the vineyard work.

His unique stainless steel tanks include a top fermenter that allows juice to drain into the tank below. The must is then pulled out of the top tank and pressed again. They also use a state-of-the-art optical sorter for their berry selection.

Just as their winemaking is innovative so is their wine line up. Their Al Passo is 80% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot, and although by current law they could sell it as Chianti, it’s sold as IGT Toscano to avoid Chianti’s somewhat tarnished reputation. And indeed this wine shows more plum and meat than standard Chianti. Their homage to Chianti Classico is in their Vigna Montebello Sette which bears the relatively new Gran Selezione designation. This is 100% Sangiovese aged for 30 months in large foudre casks. It’s rich, with dark fruit and earth, quite rustic with grippy tannins. It’s age worthy but needs time; it is sold in the U.S. for just over $30.

Picconero is their Bordeaux-style offering. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and produced only in the best vintages, it’s muscular and spicy with dark cherry, chocolate and a seam of minerality, a very successful rendition of Bordeaux in Italy. With 16 months in 100% new French oak, it sells for over $100 in the U.S. Finally, we tasted their Valdisanti, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend with 20% Sangiovese and a bit of Cabernet Franc. The Cab influence is quite evident with cassis, sweet oak, and a very nice savory, herbal dimension. This spent 16 months in French barrique, 70% new, including 6 months on the lees.  It’s a good bargain for around $30.

These wines get good scores from the Wine Spectator and other critics and are clearly designed for the international market.

So we had an interesting juxtaposition of old school and new school Chianti. Which was my favorite? These are all quality wines but the Badia a Coltibuono Riserva is the one that sticks in my mind. It’s distinctly Chianti Classico but offering much more than your garden variety bottom-shelf Chianti at under $30.

Next stop, the village of Montepulciano.

Wine Blog Daily Monday 7/16/18


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

cork harvestJamie Goode documents the cork harvest in Portugal.

Alfonso Cevola, On the Wine Trail in Italy, extolls the virtues of Greek wine and food and compares Greek attempts to penetrate the American market with Italian success.

Karen MacNeil mourns the death of Leslie Rudd of Napa’s Rudd Estate.

Tim Gaiser interviews Ron Merlino a wine professional and manager of symphony conductors who researches the role of wine in the lives of the great composers.

The Wine Gourd compares the wine tasting results of amateurs and professionals.

Apparently there is a revived debate about Robert Parker’s influence; Tim Atkin weighs in on Parker’s legacy.

Seth Buckley has an informative introduction to the Southern Rhone Valley

Dallas Wine Chick interviews John Concannon of the pioneering Concannon family who played an important role in the emergence of Cabernet Sauvignon in California.

Amanda Barnes interviews winemaker Carlos Lucas on the potential of Portugal’s Dão region.

Pam Strayer of Organic Wines Uncorked reviews two books about rare and unusual grape varietals:  Tasting the Past, by Kevin Begos and Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Cellar Tours describes the culinary gems of Sicily.

The Drunken Cyclist profiles Château de Fargues, the producer of Sauternes.

Wine Travel Eats profiles Mi Sueño Winery in Napa.

Selected Reviews:

Jamie Goode reviews 5 Gamay wines from Beaujolais.

Fredric Koeppel reviews several wines from various French regions.

Aaron Nix-Gomez tastes through a flight of very old wines from Dolcetto d’Alba.

Cindy Rynning reviews Sun 2013, a Greek wine from Thessaly made from Limniona and Xinomavro and paired with a cinnamon lamb stew.

Tom Lee reviews the 2016 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Sonoma County

Michelle Williams continues her series on breaking out of the wine rut, with reviews of several white wines from lesser known regions or varietals.

Issac Baker reviews the current lineup from Kita winery in the Santa Ynez Valley.