Wine Blog Daily Friday, 2/9/18


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

canned wneThe Wine Curmudgeon has some thoughts on canned wine.

Pam Strayer interviews wine business Professor Liz Thach (MW) about eco-certified wines.

Julien Miquel profiles production methods of Pauillac producer Chateau Pédesclaux?

and if you like wine and food-themed detective novels Julien reviews several from publisher Le French Book translated into English.

Lisa Zimmerman reports on the rivers of cash wholesalers send to politicians to keep three-tier in place.

Crushed Grape Chronicles reports on their extensive visit to Balletto Vineyards in Russian River.

Wine-to-Five podcast is talking Tannat this week.

We have the second batch of favorite wines of 2017 according to Jamie Goode’s Instagram metics.


Selected Wine Reviews:

foodwineclick dives into the ins and outs of port and reviews an affordable Cockburn’s Special Reserve

Cool Climate Wine tastes a St. Supery Cabernet Franc which has taken over a decade to finally come into balance.

The Drunken Cyclist tastes several sparkling wines suitable for Valentine’s Day romancin’.

Tom Lee’s Zinfandel of the month is the 2015 Sobon Estate Old Vine Zinfandel Amador County.

Quentin Sadler’s love for Rioja extends to the Cune 2011 Gran Reserva.

The Wine Daily reports that Guarachi Wine Partners is launching a wine called Bacon, apparently an attempt to pander to bacon lovers.

And for those braving some deep winter chill this weekend, this grilled cauliflower soup from Wine, Travel, Eats looks awfully good.caulflower soup


Budget Wine Review: 14 Hands Winery Hot to Trot White Blend 2015


14 hands hot to trotOwned by Ste. Michelle Estates, and consistently among the 20 largest brands in the U.S., 14 Hands is named after the size of the small horses—14 hands—that used to roam the plains of Eastern Washington.

This is a Chardonnay/Riesling blend with small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Pinot Gris in the mix.

It doesn’t leap out of the glass but the aromatics are pleasant–lemon, green apple, d’anjou pear with floral hints. On the palate it has a bit of sweetness up front introducing a creamy, medium plus body at midpalate but finishes crisp and tart. A vibrant wine with a satisfying midpalate it will stand up to foods that have some sweetness.

A simple, well-made, versatile white with good value.

Score: 87

Price: $12 (Purchase Here)

Alc: 13%

The viscous guitars on Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Shame and Fortune” resonate nicely with the the substantial mid palate and crisp finish of this wine.

Wine Blog Daily Thursday 2/8/18


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

sam gimignano

San Gimignano

Kathleen Wilcox explores the world of social media influencers in wine.

Susannah Gold chats with San Gimignano winemaker Principessa Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi and discovers a possible connection to the Mona Lisa.

The Drunken Cyclist is on day 3 of his Sicilian tour visiting Gorghi Tondi, a relatively new Sicilian producer.

Do Bianchi reports on iconic Brunello producer Biondi Santi’s new marketing strategy.

The Color of Wine profiles former Wall Street Journal wine columnist Dorothy Gaiter.

Bob on Sonoma has a list of some of the wineries and breweries who have made substantial contributions to fire relief efforts in Sonoma.

Selected Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel finds good value in the Aniello Chardonnay from Patagonia, Argentina.

Miquel Hudin tastes the Blue Not Wine Gik. To say he found it revolting is an understatement.

jon Thorsen reviews Locations P Portuguese Red Wine by Dave Phinney and finds it decadent.

Tom Lee reviews the 2004 J. Rochioli Pinot Noir Little Hill Vineyard

Jamie Goode reviews Champagne Gosset Grande Réserve Brut NV France

Coming Down Off the Perfect Meal


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Food and wine have not been taken seriously as forms of art throughout history in part because of the belief that vision and hearing are the only senses that lend themselves to the intellectual explorations we associate with art. This ideology, called the “sense hierarchy”, and masterfully traced by Carolyn Korsmeyer in Making Sense of Taste, treats taste and smell as thoroughly functional sources of brute pleasure, too primitive and instinctual to be worthy of genuine aesthetic discrimination.

This ideology is ancient. 2500 years ago, Plato argued that vision and sound give us information about the world that engages the intellect, while tastes and smells only encourage the appetite which he likened to a ravenous beast that overcomes our rational faculties. (I suppose Plato can be forgiven for not knowing about the porn industry or trivial pop melodies that suck you in each time you hear them.)

…the gods made what is called the lower belly, to be a receptacle for the superfluous meat and drink and formed the convolution of the bowels, so that the food might be prevented from passing quickly through and compelling the body to require more food, thus producing insatiable gluttony and making the whole race an enemy to philosophy and culture, and rebellious against the divinest element within us.

One wonders what was in Plato’s kitchen that threatened to sap his self-control. But Plato’s assertion rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of how appetite works. Appetite has its own internal control mechanisms.

This point was brought home to me as I read Jay Rayner’s book The Man Who Ate the World. Rayner, a British food critic, often on the judges’ panel for Top Chef, set out on a worldwide quest to discover the perfect meal. With perfection being an impossible standard, his quest involves more disappointments than successes. But the penultimate failures could be attributed to the fact that his ambling about the world was avoiding the one place where such perfection is alleged to be routine—Paris, where he endeavors to eat 7 meals in 7 days at the finest restaurants.

The regrets begin on Day Two, and by Day Six:

Oh, god, I don’t know. Another Parisian three-star. Doormen in peaked caps.Claw-foot chairs. Side tables for the ladies to put their handbags on. The food was standard three-star stuff: langoustines on sticks wrapped in sea-water foam, beetroot meringues, yeast ice cream decorated with silver leaf. You know the score by now.

Rayner’s weary lamentation shows that appetite is not quite a ravenous, insatiable beast. It’s not that the food wasn’t good. Most of it met his expectations. But the adage “too much of a good thing” applies even to the finest cuisine. In the absence of compulsive disorders, pleasures aim at their own extinction. (There is probably an evolutionary explanation for this. Organisms that are never satisfied will ignore everything else to their obvious detriment)

Many philosophers have noticed this tendency of pleasures to be satiated but argue that the desire for pleasure always returns in a never ending cycle of debilitating craving. But, again, Rayner’s experience shows that this is not necessarily the case.

But the wonderful thing about perfection is that it is, of course,unobtainable. That didn’t stop me searching for it. That hasn’t stopped me wondering about it. All I need is the appetite. There is only one problem. I’m no longer sure I have one.

Having experienced the best cuisine in the world, the post-quest prospect of the many failed meals that await the restaurant critic no longer appeals to him. Once one develops aesthetic standards and acquires an ability to discriminate, fewer pleasures seem attractive.  Critical awareness enhances self-control. The motivation to seek pleasure can be tamed by the very intellect that Plato thought would be overwhelmed.

There is no reason to think there is something peculiarly “brute” or instinctual about taste—it can be refined and disciplined just like any other sensation.

From the Archives

Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 2/7/18


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

Marcus Ford explores the ins and outs of selling wine in the Chinese market.

Jamie Goode presents the outsiders’ views on Central Otago Pinot Noir, from three winemakers who make wine elsewhere.

The Alcohol Professor keeps us up-to-date on the technology of wine closures with a profile of the cork-maker Diam.

Mike Veseth, the Wine Economist, travels to Chateau Ste. Michelle to experience the latest innovations in wine tourism.


Selected Reviews:

Allison Levine rekindles her interest in Zinfandel finding several at ZAP that were well balanced.

Tom Lee reviews new releases from the Washington State producer, Lauren Ashton Cellars.

JVB Uncorked reviews an affordable Carménère , Torreon De Paredes, Reserva Carménère 2014, from Rengo, Chile.

foodwineclick provides an overview of Riesling while reviewing an aging beauty, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Kabinett 2002

Clips and Quips


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newspaperThe rain was good while it lasted. It looks like drought is returning to California. There is currently very little snow in the mountains.

Economists are arguing that terroir began as a marketing concept in the 18th Century in order to protect the interests of the politically connected. Some will try to use this study to claim that geographical distinctiveness (terroir)  doesn’t exist. That would be a genetic fallacy. The truth of a claim does not depend on its origins. Will they care that their argument is illogical?

Speaking of a marketing scam, Beaujolais Nouveau continues to get people excited about swill. Now the Japanese are planning to import Sake Nouveau to France. My first reaction was to wonder why they would copy someone else’s bad idea. But the French chefs promoting unpasteurized sake are quite high on it. I’m sure they are unbiased.

Pinotage is the zombie grape. You just can’t kill it. Some South African winemakers are apparently taking it seriously again. Why? Is anyone clamoring for flavors of rusty nails or bandaids.

As large distributors consolidate, small distributors have to merge to compete. I’m not sure that’s good for small wineries who get lost in the shuffle.

The ridiculous federal policies toward immigrants are putting Ag businesses in a difficult position in California.

A Chinese study suggests that if you drink alcohol, you should drink ice tea.

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 2//6/18


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

moldova-mapBlake Gray encourages us to drink the wines of Moldova.

Elaine Chukan Brown (AKA Hawk Wakawaka) documents her two week trip to New Zealand.

Do Bianchi discovers a source for identifying counterfeit wines.

Ron Washam tells the truth about wine competitions.

Lodi Wine interviews Mike McCay of McCay Cellars about what makes Lodi Zinfandel distinctive.

John Fodera profiles Emidio Pepe the iconic producer of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Lisa Zimmerman chronicles the latest controversy over wine labeling. How should wineries using fruit from out of their region label their wines?

Selected Reviews:

The Wine Curmudgeon reviews a more costly wine, Angwin Estate’s The Kissing Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

binNotes reviews the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Sarah Ahmed reviews two from Portugal’s Douro region, the Dona Berta Reserva Branco Rabigato 2016 & Tinto Reserva 2013

The Art of Wine: Central Coast Group Project Captain Kierk (AKA the Knightwalker) Syrah Ballard Canyon 2013



captain kierkLow and slow usually applies to barbecue and Italian red sauce. Winemaker Scott Sampler thinks it applies to wine as well. A taste of this Syrah will make anyone a believer.

Most winemakers leave red wines macerating on the skins and seeds until fermentation is finished. In some cases an extended maceration is desired for an additional week or two in order to extract more tannin and flavor. Scott keeps the wine in contact with the skins for up to 6 months! This is very old school, the way traditional Barolo was made. The problem with those old Barolos was that all that extraction would make the wines so tannic they were undrinkable for 20 years. Somehow Scott Sampler manages to make wines that are rich and powerful yet soft and supple.

I don’t know how this uber-maceration produces such elegant wines. Conventional winemaking theory would advise against it.  In poking around winemaking manuals my guess is that the tannins form long chain polymers that eventually precipitate out of the wine if you macerate long enough thus softening the mouthfeel. Scott said the science isn’t well understood but whatever the explanation, this is a method that requires constant attention, lots of stirring to keep the cap moving, and delicate decisions about when the wine is ready. “The wines go through phases”, he said. They will taste awful one day and I think they’ll never come around. Two weeks later they’re beautiful.”

central coast group projectSoft-spoken and unassuming, Scott is quite literally a “garagiste” producing less than 1000 cases annually out of a tiny, cluttered space in an industrial park in Buellton, near Santa Barbara.  He thinks of his wine as made by a network that includes friends, family, truck drivers, field workers, philosophers, scientists, etc.—anyone who has had an influence on the final product. Hence the name Central Coast Group Project. Yet, despite these humble trappings  his wines are coveted by somms and are on the list of several fine restaurants in LA and New York.

Truth be told I was predisposed to like these wines. After all Scott was a philosophy major in college at Berkeley and a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He names this Syrah “Captain Kierk (aka The Knightwalker)” after a star-fleet commander and the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. What’s not to like?  (Kierkegaard called himself the Knight of Faith and loved to take walks; hence the name “Knightwalker”.) A long quote from Kierkegaard about productive walks appears on the bottle’s back label. Sampler is really into back story.

I had no doubt the wines would be interesting as we prepared to pay Scott a visit. What I did not expect was to be bowled over, knocked out, awe-struck by the sort of wine that can induce a religious experience. This is one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the U.S.

central coast group project 2An incredibly rich, complex nose showing ripe blackberry, balsamic, wet autumn leaves, violets, dark chocolate, caramelized bacon and a lovely sweet oak top note. You could get lost for hours in these aromas. But it’s the combination of power, breadth, and tenderness on the palate that sets this wine apart. The opening is meaty with robust dark cherry, but then turns soft and luxurious at midpalate, light on its feet despite the impression of immensity left by the depth of concentration. A bright, mineral seam develops, as the wine begins to finish, with emergent tannins drying yet soft as talc, very fine grained. As the wine evolves in the mouth it acquires great dynamic range, with fruit intensity persisting showing licorice notes even as the wine fades. At terminus, about 2 minutes in, it gains a kind of spectral presence as if you sense the ghost of what had transpired before.

This is not brooding. It has too much charm to brood. But it is dark and acquires an edge on the back end even as it melts in your mouth. A wine to think about. What is it doing? There must be a meaning here. There is deliberation, stately motion, finding new directions without letting go of the past, power without bombast.

A wine thoughtful and warm, yet majestic but with a touch of the demon, a sacred wine with an intensity matched only by Peter Gabriel’s Rhythm of the Heat.

This is 100% Syrah from Santa Barbara’s Larner Vineyard. Macerated for 101 days, including the native yeast fermentation, it sees two years in neutral French oak with 18 months on gross lees.

Hurry. Only 73 cases made.

Score: 95

Price: $75 (Purchase Here)

Alc: 15.5%

How to Be an Objective Wine Critic



critical wine tastingIn the debate about whether winetasting is subjective or objective we need more nuance. One side claims wine tasting is subjective because we can’t agree on wine quality. The other side claims there are objective, chemical components of wine which explain wine flavors and aromas about which we can be correct or mistaken. Both sides are right but express only partial truths. There are objective and subjective dimensions to wine quality.

The problem with the objectivist view is that a collection of chemicals doesn’t add up to beauty, finesse, complexity, or any of the other aesthetic concepts used to describe wine. But that needn’t leave us mired in subjectivity.

That we have different responses to wine is inevitable given our biological, cultural and personal differences. What matters is that in our tasting we adopt a form of play that creates space where something indeterminate or unusual can be sensed that can disrupt our expectations and give us a clearer view of a wine’s quality. But this will work only if we engage the wine as we would a work of art; our own sensory and emotional experience is itself an object of reflection. In other words, we should consciously embrace our perceptions of unfamiliarity, confusion or even dislike in order to open up opportunities to taste what we might have missed. Embracing displeasure and questioning pleasure are essential elements of the process.

Of course in the end the wine must give pleasure in order to be positively evaluated. But the process must involve some questioning of the assumptions we bring to the table when we taste.

Responsible wine criticism involves taking a critical approach to wine appreciation in which we become aware of our perceptions and feelings and experience them as experiences, a form of self-relatedness  in which  our reactions are part of the wine’s meaning. This is different from an attempt at pure objective description. There is no attempt to ignore or discount one’s personal reactions but to look at them as something which themselves must be assessed.

We evaluate not only the wine but our assessment of the wine.

Obviously, this kind of critical reflection doesn’t guarantee a quality judgment. There are no guarantees. But critical reflection is essential to any account of objectivity that has a chance to succeed.

Wine Blog Daily Monday 2/5/2018


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


Valtellina, Italy

The Wine Gourd has done some interesting data analysis comparing countries that are net exporters of wine vs. countries that are net importers. There are surprises in the data.

John Thorsen delivers a much deserved thrashing of the three-tier wine distribution system.

James Lawrence reports on attempts to revive the fortunes of Pinotage in South Africa.

Wine Publicist Tom Wark gives advice about writing effective story pitches.

foodwineclick profiles Valtellina, a lesser known Italian region producing Nebbiolo, focusing on the wines of Giorgio Gianatti.

Helen Conway at Around the World in 80 Harvests reports on the explosion of interest in Carignan in Chile.

Alfonso Cevola On the Wine Trail in Italy wonders why many fine Italian restaurants in the U.S. do not include premium Prosecco on their wine lists.

Pam Strayer reports from  Millesime-Bio the organic wine symposium held recently in Montpelier, France.

Dr. Christian Schiller profiles Stuart Pigott and his annual list of Germany’s top 100 wines.

The Drunken Cyclist continues his recounting of his trip to Alentejo, Portugal with a profile of Dona Maria.

Jamie Goode surveys the best wines of 2017 according to his Instagram “likes”.

Selected Reviews:

Karen McNeil reviews several white Bordeaux at the Union des Grand Crus Bordeaux tasting in San Francisco.

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel 2016, from a new AVA, Eagle Peak, in Mendocino County.

Susannah Gold reviews the 2016 Montgras Pinot Noir Reserva from Valle de Leyda, Chile.

Cyndi Rynning profiles Scheid Family Vineyards’ District 7 wines from Monterey

Simon Woolf reviews an orange wine, the Coenobium Ruscum 2016,   made by the cistercian order of nuns at Monastero Suore Cistercensi, near Vitorchiano in Lazio.

Alison Levine reviews Sojourn Cellars 2016 Walala Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.