Wine Blog Daily Friday 8/10/18

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

pexels-photo-1209290Richard Hemming MW argues that claiming a passion for wine has become a meaningless platitude.

The Wine Curmudgeon thinks wine prices may have peaked.

James the Wine Guy has a thoughtful meditation on wine and life, challenges, and promises.

Wine to Five Podcast visits with Kevin Bagos, author of Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor & the Search for the Origins of Wine

Deborah Parker Wong reports that Paraiso Vineyards, Santa Lucia Highlands, is the California State Fair’s Vineyard of the Year for 2018.

The wineORL provides a primer on the role of soil minerals in meeting nutrition requirements of grape vines.

Pam Strayer at Organic Wines Uncorked reports on the prospects of biodynamic food.

Jameson Fink’s Podcast discusses the red blends of Washington State.

Winey Visits and Travel Posts:

The Drunken Cyclist shares photos of his bike trip through Northern France.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode reviews a Pet Nat from Vermont—Iapetus Techtonic.

Jamie Goode reviews the current lineup from Frankland Estate, Western Australia.

Meg Houston Maker reviews the 2017 Massican Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard Napa Valley

Pull That Cork celebrates Albariño from Lodi.

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Myths of the Wine World #1: Winemakers Make Wine

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forkliftAs with all myths, this one has an element of truth to it. In the Oxford Dictionary, the primary meaning of “to make” is “to form (something) by putting parts together or combining substances”. In the winery who actually puts the parts of the wine together? That all depends on the size of the winery.

In small production wineries under about 1500-2000 cases per year, if they’re charging less than $40 per bottle, it’s usually the winemaker and his/her family who actually handle the grapes, sorting them, putting them in the destemmer, moving them to the fermentation tanks, getting the barrels ready, crushing the grapes, racking off the juice, moving pallets by forklift, and so on. They’re actually making the wine by putting parts together. (Wineries that make expensive wine can afford to have a crew do all that “making” although lots of artisan winemakers enjoy being hands on.)

But as production exceeds that level, the physical labor is more than one or two people can do. They need to hire help. The winemaker has to pitch in when short-handed or during times of peak work load or emergencies. But routine tasks of “making” are done by hired help—temporary migrant workers, interns, underpaid newbies trying to get a foothold in the industry, and better paid production managers who divide their time between supervising and pitching in. And once production starts to creep over 5000 cases, which includes most of the wine made in the world, the winemaker does very little “making”.

What do “winemakers” do? They make most of  the decisions about what to do with the grapes or wine and when it should be done. They spend a lot of time checking their vineyards or testing in the lab. They are buried in spread sheets, planning, planning and more planning, and supervising the work crews. (not to mention schlepping the wine and trying to sell it after its made.)

In the modern winery, winemakers are really wine designers. They work hard but its mental labor and communications not the physical labor of making.

Wine Blog Daily Thursday 8/9/18

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photo-1464638681273-0962e9b53566A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

So far, the Northern California fires have stayed away from wine country. Fingers crossed.

Tom Wark addresses the issue of sexism in the wine industry.

1 Wine Dude assesses the 2018 list of the 100 most influential people in wine.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode reviews the Les Tourelles de Longueville 2013 Pauillac, the second wine of Pichon Baron and addresses some issues regarding wine scores.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s wine of the week is the Ryder Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017 from California.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews the 2015 Penfolds Max’s Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon

Tom Lee reviews the 2014 Sandlands Trousseau, the project of Tegan Passalacqua, Turley’s winemaker.

Ken’s Wine Guide has several value wine recommendations.

Vino Sphere reviews a vertical of Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah from Mendocino

A Quick Tour of the Land of Super Tuscans

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super-tuscan-1The main wine regions in the Province of Siena—Chianti, Montepulciano, and Montalcino—have strong traditions that exercise a gravitational pull on their wine styles. The commitment to earthy Sangiovese, the delicate style of aged Brunello, the rustic Nobile di Montepulciano, the use of large ageing vessels of ancient lineage, 900 liter tonneau and the larger botti, all harken back to an old world style of winemaking that survives despite modern technology and viticulture.

As we head west toward the Tyrrhenian Sea we leave behind those centuries of tradition for the regions of Italy that fomented the Italian wine revolution in the 1970’s—Maremma and Bolgheri—where innovation matters more than tradition. Here Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot receive equal billing with Sangiovese, Syrah edges toward wide acceptance, and the use of French oak barrique to age the wine aims at a more flamboyant “international style” of winemaking. Does the world need more Cabernet Sauvignon you might ask? The answer appears to be “yes” given recent sales figures that show continued dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon in the fine wine category. Does the world need more oak induced chocolate, coffee and vanilla flavors? Well, again, follow the money.

Speaking of money if you find these wines a bit too expensive get used to it. Especially in Bolgheri when I asked at Michele Satta if they planned to expand production our guide sadly shook his head and said there is no more good vineyard land available at any price. As demand for these wines continues to grow higher prices will inevitably follow.

The oft-told Super Tuscan story is fascinating. Highly successful winemakers in the 1960’s and 1970’s grew tired of the restrictions made necessary if you wanted to call your wine Chianti or Nobile di Montepulciano. An ocean of inferior wine was made under these labels in part because the rules allowed only approved grapes that were over cropped to meet increasing demand. Traditional winemaking techniques and aging regimes were mandated by law so there was little room for innovation.

super-tuscan-2Wine producers concerned with quality–Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who made the famed Sassicaia and the Antinori family were the pioneers– tossed caution to the winds using international grape varieties and whatever winemaking techniques they thought would improve quality. It was a hard sell at first because they had to label their wines as generic table wines since they violated regulatory rules. But the quality of the wines and reputations of the producers prevailed, and today these are among the most admired wines in Italy having acquired the unofficial name “super Tuscans”. DOC rules have since been amended to allow regional designations of these wines.super tuscan 3 unedited

This willingness to innovate and defy tradition continues in these regions. We visited two wineries on the cutting of edge of even more progressive winemaking. The first stop was Rocca di Frassinello winery in the region of Maremma, owned by a consortium that includes the owners of Bordeaux premier crus Lafite Rothschild. Located in the middle of 3,000-year-old Etruscan ruins, and designed by famed architect Renzo Piano, this is a a spectacular gravity flow winery with a mobile crush pad on the roof deck that drops the sorted grapes though chutes to the next level below for fermentation, and then though a series of tubes to the level below that to their unique concrete barrel room in the shape of an amphitheater. The concrete maintains temperature and humidity and the architecture creates an awe-inspiring cathedral-like atmosphere.

Their visitor center includes exhibits of Etruscan artifacts found when excavating for the building and features a tasting of what Etruscan wine might have been like. The Ancient Etruscans doctored their wine with flowers, pepper, cheese, or water. Thus the winery serves samples of their wine gently steeped in these ingredients. I suppose this was interesting although the base wine was not in need of such enhancements and likely bore little resemblance to the wines made 3000 years ago.

Their wines were impressive especially as value wines. A minerally Vermentino and tasty Rosato were mere prelude to the two reds which were the stars of the show. The Poggio alla Guardia Vigne Alte, a blend of 62% Sangiovese with the balance of Cab, Merlot and Syrah was earthy but fresh, with a fruity midpalate, wonderful acidity and a very interesting active finish. It was aged for 12 months in concrete. The Le Sughere di Frassinello has appeared in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100. 50% Sangiovese, and equal portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this is a classic Super Tuscan aged for 12 months in 50% new French barrique. Rich with black cherry and coffee and a mineral seam to launch the long finish, this is available in the states for under $20 and is an excellent value.

After Rocca di Frassinello we head to the coast to the Bolgheri region. This is where some of the finest triple-digit price tag wines in all of Italy come from and for good reason. The soil mix of limestone, clay, and marl is ideal for wine grapes, as is the warm days to ripen grapes, sea breezes to ventilate vineyards and stave off disease, and cool nights to maintain acidity in the grapes.  Our stop is at one of Bolgheri’s wine pioneers, Michele Satta, who was kind enough to drop in and explain the history of the winery and his approach to winemaking. (Michele’s first vintage was 1983; the Bolgheri DOC was established in 1984.) Satta worked for Sassiccaia before deciding to plant his own vineyard, one of the first vineyards in Bolgheri. Today the vines are farmed bio-dynamically and produce about 13000 cases per year.

Biodynamic farming is a type of farming developed in the early 20th Century and is increasingly popular among viticulturists because it focuses on maintaining a natural equilibrium in the vineyard without the use of chemical sprays and pesticides. Beans and mustard are planted in the vineyard rows to introduce nitrogen into the soil. Special compost preparations condition the soils and various herbal teas are used to control pests. More controversially, activities in the vineyard are regulated by a calendar that specifies when pruning, harvesting and watering should take place.super-tuscan-4

Does biodyanamics shape the taste of the wine? That is a subject of great debate I won’t try to adjudicate here. But these wines were impressive. The Costa di Giulia Vermentino/Sauvignon Blanc blend was the best white wine we’ve had on the tour with great intensity and a textured mouth feel. The Bolgheri Rosso, a kitchen sink blend of several grapes, had a beautiful nose of intense plum, mocha and coffee with a soft midpalate and firm tannins—at $17 dollars an outstanding value.  The Piastraia Superiore, a Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese blend, was rich and smooth, very elegant—a perfect match with the pappa al pomodoro.super-tuscan-6-edited  And finally, the dessert wine, Govin Re, a Viognier late harvest of very focused peach and refreshing acidity, brought the tasting to a close. The Cabernet and Merlot were aged in new French oak, the Sangiovese and Syrah in mostly used oak.

This late afternoon lunch and tasting was the end of the winery visits; we finish the tour with a day of seafood and scenery in the Cinque Terre. We settled in for a  two hour drive up the coast passing by Pisa where we caught a glimpse of the leaning tower from the freeway and the famous Cararra marble quarries which looked like early June snow in the mountains. From La Spezia, the beginning of the Italian Riviera, it was 30 minutes of spectacular vistas overlooking cliffs to the ocean below before arriving in the village of Porto Venere, the first of the Cinque Terre villages. This view from our hotel room was charming. But these anchovies are by themselves worth a trip to Italy.

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Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 8/8/18

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stinky-cheese-lA daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

James Lawrence reports on the trend to have all-women-winemakers wine lists.

J. Blake Gray argues that bringing raw-milk cheese into the U.S. is perfectly legal as long as it’s for personal consumption.

The Wine Economist suggests that the U.S. wine industry’s achilles heel is an inadequate supply of labor.

The Drunken Cyclist is at a Burgundy tasting , Hospices de Beaune , and can’t taste or smell a thing—day 4 of the worst ten days of his life.

Susannah Gold asks what the average wine consumer can do to combat climate change.

Cindy Rynning interviews Enozioni, an Italian wizard at Instagram promotion.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Around the World in 80 Harvests profiles Schramsberg, the sparkling wine producer.

Meg Houston Maker reviews the 2014 Inman Family OGV Estate Brut Rosé Russian River Valley

Allison Levine celebrates International Albariño Days with tasting notes on several from Rías Baixas.

Reverse Wine Snob serves up the Silkbush Viognier from South Africa Plus Lime Chicken with Avocado Caprese Salad

Jameson Fink reviews a Greek Rosé, the Domaine Zafeirakis 2017 Limniona Rosé Wine of Tyrnavos

Tom Lee reviews the 2011 J. Rochioli Pinot Noir Estate

Wine Travel Eats reviews several Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand

Aging Report: Merryvale Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005

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Another data point in the continuing debate about whether Napa Cabs age gracefully.

merryvale cabMerryvale has a long, storied history. Built in 1933 immediately after prohibition, early owners included some members of the Mondavi family and later in the 80’s was owned by a real estate group founded by Bill Harlan. The name was changed to Merryvale (from Sunny St. Helena”) in 1991 and was purchased by the current owners, the Schlatter family, in 1996.

Merryvale is known for elegance and balance rather than power, and this wine provides evidence that balance is essential for good ageing.A middling scorer (high 80’s-low 90’s) when released, this wine is significantly improved 13 yrs. after its vintage date.

Cassis, black olive, fig and warm spices mingle with some chocolate notes to frame a still vibrant,  gently developing nose. In the mouth, a delicate thread of flint appears as the mid-section intensity peaks. The wine has settled into a shapely, supple, sensuality, a slow walk with good amplitude as it shows crisp hi-toned spice notes and deeper ripe fruit still in abundance.

Drawn out but not tentative as it moves across the palate, the finish is mid length with lovely, fine tannins.

I can’t think of a better evocation of this wine at this time than the cool, sophisticated polish of Steely Dan’s Hey Nineteen.

Storage Conditions: Excellent

Consumed on 8/4/18.

Score: 93

Price: $82

Alc: 14.5%

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 8/7/18

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

Lisa Zimmerman reports on a promising technology for eliminating tainted corks.

The Hosemaster of Wine applies his rapier wit to natural wines.

Renowned Riesling expert Stuart Pigott with Dr. Christian Schiller report on the state of German Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder)

Pam Strayer reports that Sonoma and Napa organic grape harvest declined from 2015-1016.

Bob on Sonoma reports on why many Napa and Sonoma tasting rooms are now by appointment only.

Vino Sphere has a weekly round up of wine, food and travel news.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

The Drunken Cyclist continues to pedal through France drinking only the house wine.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Jamie Goode profiles Rapura Winery, Marlborough New Zealand.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s expensive wine review is the Pehu Simonet Champagne Face Nord Extra Brut NV

Michelle Williams reviews Ravenswood’s lineup of single vineyard designate Zinfandel.

Meg Houston Maker reviews the 2015 Limerick Lane Syrah Headpruned Block Russian River Valley

Good Vitis reviews the 2015 Hess Select North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon.

JVB Uncorked reviews the Scheid Vineyards Grüner Veltliner 2016, Riverview Vineyard Monterey

Why is Wine Talk Considered Pretentious?

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wine snobIt is hard to come up with an example of a type of conversation more vilified than wine talk. In the popular imagination wine talk is the province of pretentious snobs putting on airs of superiority while extolling the virtues of a glass of fermented grape juice.

But why is wine conversation uniquely pretentious? People engage in all sorts of conversations about sports, music, film, economics, politics, etc. which are far more speculative and ill-informed than discussions about wine. Yet conversations about these more opaque topics do not earn the opprobrium visited upon wine enthusiasts.  [Conversations about visual art, especially abstract art, are similarly frowned upon, which I suppose is evidence that winemaking is an art.]

Take baseball for instance. There are people who spend their spare, waking hours pouring over statistics that most of us have never heard of—war (wins above replacement value), fip (field-independent pitching), babip (batting average of balls in play) only the scratch the surface of the arcana that baseball geeks use to support arguments about which players are over-rated, under-rated, destined for the World Series, etc. This is as useless as any wine conversation conducted at a level of eye-glazing detail several notches more abstract than a discussion of the virtues of Brunello. Yet baseball geeks are not cultural pariahs.

Or consider rock music. There are people who can finely parse the distinction between heavy metal and goth metal, and their relative virtues,  while providing a full account of how each developed from the noodling of some obscure itinerant blues player from the depression era south. Yet such expertise is seldom treated with the derision suffered by wine experts.

Peter Pharos has written extensively about this. He rightfully argues that too many people assume there is no such thing as real wine expertise:

A surprisingly large number of people think that it is all an illusion, a swindle on the gullible, a pantomime for the pompous. Nor is this perception confined to ale-swigging Albion and bourbon-slugging Dixie. You’re every bit as likely to encounter deniers of wine expertise in places with a long association with the vine, from California to Greece.

I think this is right but it’s not obvious why anyone would think that analyzing baseball statistics or making judgments about the relative virtues of rock bands would involve a more reliable form of expertise than wine tasting.

I suspect it has to do with the fact that wine is a vague object, unlike baseball or rock music, utterly opaque to someone without the relevant expertise to recognize its features. The basic elements of rock music and baseball are available to almost anyone.Thus, they assume there is something objectively present on which the expertise rests.

Because wine is a vague object it lacks that basic level of accessibility.

Wine Blog Daily Monday 8/6/18

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wine-cellar-1329061__340A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

Alfonso Cevola, On The Wine Trail in Italy, spent the summer taking the pulse of America.

Jamie Goode considers the possibility that we might be able to greatly enhance our sense of smell.

The Wine Curmudgeon reports on Warren Winiarski’s donation to build a comprehensive library of the work of wine writers.

The Wine Gourd considers the case for expanding the 100 pt. scale for wine quality.

#8 on Pam Strayer’s list of the 10 best selling wines made with organic grapes is Korbel’s Organic Brut.

Susannah Gold describes her latest home winemaking adventure.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Pull That Cork revisits Willcox, Arizona, where most of the grapes for Arizona’s wine industry are grown.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Meg Houston Maker reviews the 2015 Pfendler Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast.

Isaac Baker reviews several wines from Virginia.

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Greggarious Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016

The Drunken Cyclist is happily peddling through Brittany, France but drinking and reviewing Alsace.

Jameson Fink reviews Domaine Tempier Rosé 2017

Tim Lemke reviews the 2015 Marques de Casa Concha carmenere from Chile.

Reverse Wine Snob reviews Ammunition Wines The Equalizer Red Blend from Sonoma.

Allison Levine’s pick of the week is the LaZarre Wines 2016 Albariño from Edna Valley.

Pull That Cork reviews a Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from The Sisters winery in New Zealand.

Amber Lebeau reviews the 2016 Sound Purveyors Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley.

Budget Wine Review: Firefly Ridge Pinot Noir Central Coast 2016

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firefly ridge pinotThis is a private label wine produced for Safeway. I bought it because it has an AVA listed on the bottle unlike most under $10 wines. At least the grapes come from the Central Coast a portion of which is conducive to growing good Pinot Noir. But at $10 a bottle rest assured the grapes are not from the best sites. Pinot Noir for under $20 is difficult to find; under $10 well it’s highly unlikely.

So did it meet my low expectations? I suppose.

Candied black cherry with hints of freshly turned earth in the background, and some green, herbaceous notes form an unremarkable nose. The palate is soft and smooth, and shows a bit of sweetness, with just enough acidity to refresh. Medium weight with shy tannins that don’t provide much length, it’s low energy and ordinary but drinkable and if you must have Pinot Noir this will calm your nerves.

This happy little ditty from K. T Turnstall “Suddenly I See” captures the mood of this wine.

Score: 84

price: $9 (purchase at Safeway)

Alc: 13.5%