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TESTING WINE WRITERS
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A web site from Great Britain that's often rather entertaining has an article suggesting those who are "professional" (that term is certainly subject for debate, no?) wine writers be "tested".  Credibility is, after all, important.

"Yes, some might fail the test, but at least theyd then realise that wine writing is not likely to prove the most beneficial application of their talents." writes Wine Anorak publisher Jamie Goode.  

Establishing some sort of credibility is probably a good idea for wine writers or any journalist.  Since he writes rather interesting articles about wine, one might expect him to spell the names of various wines correctly.  In this article, Goode botches his own credibility with his misspelling the name of the famous French white Burgundy as "Mersault" instead of the correct spelling "Meursault."  

Twice.

 

 

 

WHO WANTS TO BE THE GOVERNOR?
If you live in California, you know we're in serious financial straits.  If you live outside of California, you probably think the whole state is goofy (look at what we pay for housing, or Cabernet Sauvignon, for that matter!).

With more than 100 people running for governor (and thousands running from The Golden State), we were amused to receive the month missive from Barrel-Broker-to-The-Stars, Mel Knox.  
Here are his musings:

When I learned that Arnolds favorite wine was Grner Veltliner, which he mostly drinks during special workouts at the gym, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. 
Unless Indian Bingo-and-Barbera nights become big, Cruz Bustamente is just no help. Vin Gris Davis only drinks broccoli wine while hes on his treadmill. 
The California wine industry needs somebody at the helm of our great state whose only special interest lies in making sure that our wine industry is strong and healthy.

Here is my platform:

1.  Wine stamps: We have seen how successful food stamps have been. When poor people start comparing vintages, well be on the road to recovery. 

My opponents complain that these stamps will only be redeemable by people who buy barrels from me, but I ask you:  would the people of our state be free of terroirism if they were forced to drink inferior products??

The people deserve the best. Our federal government spends $4,000 per American to support cotton, tobacco, peanuts etc. but not one damned penny for the fine wine producers of our country.




2. Invade Oregon and Washington . I have secret proof that these people have WMDs (Wines of Mass Delight). Allegations that we are really after their water are ridiculous and un-patriotic.



3. Mandatory barrel ageing for all liquids where words relating to wood are used. Budweiser would be aged in real beech tanks. Any root beer company (or real beer company for that matter) talking about barrels or casks would have to sit down with Duane Wall.

4. Educational reform. Many young people finish high school and even college without learning anything about barrels. Tests reveal that our young people dont understand the relationship between toasting and air-drying or even the different species of oak used to make barrels.

For example, how many of our young people can answer the following questions?

  1. True or False: The longer oak staves are dried, the less toasty the wine will taste, even though the toasting regimen is the same??
  2. True or False: Oak forests in Hungary and other Eastern European countries contain the same species of oak as in France ?
  1. This is a match the person with the forest question. For example, when Didier Dagueneau races his sled dogs near his house, they (the dogs, maybe Didier as well) provide nutrients to the Bertranges forest. So if I asked you to match forest to person, Didier would match up with Bertranges.  Match the closest forest to one of the homes of the following:

Forest :                                                                            Person:

Mark Twain State Forest                                       Jacques Chirac   

Citeaux                                                                         Leroy McGinnis

Fontainebleau                                                             Max Gigandet                                                        

Darnay                                                                           Andre Ostertag 

Chize                                                                              Henry Work   

RL Stevenson                                                               Veronique Laidet

Sarthe                                                                            Gerard Depardieu

 

  1. Arnold calls himself the Austrian oak but which of the following countries have more cubic meters of standing inventory of oak than Austria:
    A) Hungary 
    B) Poland
    C) Bulgaria  
    D) Turkey
    E) All of them?? 
    F) Who knows?

  5. This is a youre the winemaker quiz
For example, if your barrels are two quarts low, what would you do??
A) Start a solera  and make sherry
B) Complain to the guy who sold the barrels to you that the barrels leak
C) Top up 
D) Answer is all of the above.)

5A: You have more wine than you planned for and need new barrels. You have the choice of: 
A) Reordering three year air dried Francois-Hungary Bordeaux barrels in stock
B) Waiting one month for new Francois Frres barrels
C) Wait until late December for new Taransaud barrels
D) Phone our office and see what might be available. 
E) All of the above.

Remember, whenever and wherever fine elections are held, vote for Mel Knox early and often.

 

BARBING THOSE WHO WRITE ABOUT WINE
A curiously creative web site was suggested to us and we had a look.  It's written by a fellow named Dean Allen who's ensconced somewhere in the South of France.
His musings are amusing and he may have a future writing a wine tasting note book.  
Here are some tasting notes he's posed on his site:
Chateau Lerys 1996
Fitou

Po-faced and a bit snide at first, it picks up slow speed before gallumphing to a springy sunlight-on-hot-chrome apex, then splitting into rusty metal ringlets that roll and roll and gradually wobble off like the discounted hula hoops in The Hudsucker Proxy. Dominant notes of aspirin and cake.

Chateau Tour Boise 2000
Minervois

Two fingers in the nostrils and a gentle tug, followed by a nuzzle at the nape of the neck and that short-lived tinnitus that seems like its going to be a major pain or perhaps the first symptom of a ghastly disease but is always gone by the time you remember it was there. Moonglow and snowfights, more tinnitus, a pronounced barnyard sing-along before everything goes to hell and youre left with a big creamy mess like a priest mopping up after a wank.

Cuve Sextant 1998
Corbires

Monolithic, fearless, even rude; it goes to eleven. Pencil shavings and patchouli compete with Mister Kleen and those socks there piled up in the corner. Theres sweetness later on, much flowers and making up, and somewhere mid-swallow theres a perceptible tong sound which rings on for several minutes. Subtle overtones of toothpaste, orange juice, coffee and bacon.

Moulin de Ciffre ole 2000
Faugres

Not bad, not bad at all.

Happily, Monsieur Allen has refrained from placing numerical scores in conjunction with his reviews!

http://www.textism.com/

 

IN VINO VERITAS, OR WHAT ???
Truth In Wine
A new wine publication came our way claiming it "has the answers" to finding "the world's healthiest wines."

Wines are "evaluated" on a 100 point scoring system, just like many other publications touting this wine or that.    But these people don't seem to put wine in a glass and taste it to come up with an assessment!    They, apparently, put the wine under a microscope and analyze its component parts.  

If you're curious to know how much Manganese, Potassium or Zinc are in wines such as Glen Ellen Chardonnay, Mondavi's Woodbridge Chardonnay, Bolla Soave or Clos du Bois Merlot, this newsletter is for you!

Wines, apparently, are given more "credit" if they're low in acidity, so Mondavi's Woodbridge Chardonnay is the top ranked white wine, a product most connoisseurs find "flat" and "flabby."

I'm no chemist and have not a clue as to the alcohol content of various wines, but this publication contends that almost every wine analyzed is seriously mislabeled as to its alcohol content.  Wineries are given a leeway of 1.5% (there's a higher tax on wines above 14%).  So, a wine labeled 12.5% can be as high as 13.99% or as low as 11%.  According to Truth In Wine's analyses, virtually every wine they tested is more than 1.5% below the alcohol level stated on the label.

This is difficult to believe!  I'd be shocked if Rodney Strong, BV Coastal or Beringer Founder's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons were the feeble 10.5% alcohol as this publication claims.    Rodney Strong's web site has its 2000 vintage of Cabernet, the one these people have analyzed, as being 13.8% alcohol.  
An enologist for Rodney Strong confirmed the alcohol level as being 13.8% and was quite perplexed as to how these people could have come up with such a radically different result.

Clos du Bois' 2000 Merlot, pegged as 10.8% alcohol by the Truth in Wine folks, weighs in at 13.8% alcohol by the Clos du Bois lab crew.  

We queried the Truth in Wine folks and received a response indicating their lack of a grasp of California wine production (not to mention poor spelling):

I was as surprized as you were about the actual alcohol content.  I didn't even request it from the lab, but they had to test for it as part of the process for other tests.  Here is my theory: Rodney Strong and CDB probably did pick their own grapes at the correct brix, but one of their main concerns for these large production items is only to stay under 14%, so they will stop fermentation before it reaches 14%.  Additonally, these items are both now over 400,000 cases in total production. Such a large production requires purchased fruit from areas outside of the North Coast, and potentially lower alcohol.  And the records they keep show only one thing, the brix at harvest for their own grapes, which is where they get their alcohol percentage for the label.

So...the Truth in Wine crew believes these wineries "stop" the fermentation to keep the wines below 14% alcohol, yet their own statistics show these wines as being dry!  If they stopped the fermentation, of course, the wines would have some level of residual sugar.  

Further, they automatically expect wines of great quantity are always blended with fruit from other areas and that these other areas, for some reason, will provide wines of lower alcohol levels.

Gina Dallara, production manager at Rodney Strong told us:
"We test our alcohol level at bottling, and also send out a sample to an independent lab for testing before we decide what to put on the label.  We are subject to random audit by the BATF and must be correct within 1.5%.  It certainly is in our own best interests to correctly state the alcohol levels."

The publication claims almost all the wines it's evaluated are rather dry.  Glen Ellen Chardonnay is reportedly but 5 grams of sugar per liter, "dry" to most palates.  Kendall Jackson's Vintner's Reserve is said to be only 6 grams of sugar per liter.  A former Glen Ellen staffer told us the Chardonnay is routinely "well above" the sugar level "Truth in Wine" has published.

If you want to "learn" more about wine, the publication comes with a handy glossary.  

Tartaric acid, for example, is described as "added by winemakers to balance the excess of sugar."  This would, then, ignore the high level of tartaric acidity found NATURALLY in grapes.  And, might a winemaker add tartaric acid to a wine that is not sweet, as well???

Chardonnay is described as "white wine made from a white grape originally from Burgundy, France, used in making Champagne, white burgundy and Chablis."  That about sums it up nicely, no??

I, for one, had never been curious about which wine offers the greatest amount of Zinc, but now I know our shop is missing out by not carrying Kendall Jackson's Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay.  Further, we're going to have to send potential customers down the street if they're looking for the top scoring wine with Potassium, BV's Coastal Cabernet.  Happily, though, we can kill two birds with one stone: Rosemount's Shiraz is the top scoring wine for both Sodium and Magnesium!

I, frankly, am more interested in how a wine tastes!

 

TWO BUCK CHUCK AT A PREMIUM
I've been amused as I surf the 'Net and come upon web sites which allow wines to be sold on an "auction" basis.
Are people so lame they can't find some Gallo product such as Turning Leaf in some neighborhood store?

Even more amusing was a web page on a site called "winebid.com" which features a mixed case of a Franzia product known in the media as "Two Buck Chuck," a Central Valley set of wines sold by Trader Joe's (not exactly what you'd call a 'fine wine merchant') for all of $1.99.  The sale of this plonk (and that's being polite!) has been picked up by every media outlet as a news story (shame on those who call themselves "journalists").  

Some enterprising soul has placed a mixed case on this web site and, when I last checked, the top big was from Missy of Ohio at $40 (plus shipping, which might be more than the wine).

 

SAMMY JUST SAYS "NO" TO CORK
After having his broken bat found to be "corked," famous Chicago Cubs baseball player Sammy Sosa is rumored to have phoned Bonny Doon Vineyard winery owner Randall Grahm.

We imagine the two spoke for several minutes, Randall going on about micro-oxygenation of tannic red wines and the virtues of Riesling, while Mr. Sosa probably asked about the virtues of eschewing cork, since Bonny Doon is offering so many screw-capped bottles.

Meanwhile, fans in Chicago and environs are asking Sammy to "say it ain't Sosa."

 

WINE TASTING TOUR
A local travel agency and wine emporium placed an ad in one of the various "newspapers" promoting  an upcoming event.

They're having a "fun filled evening of Australian wines and learning about our exciting wine/culinary tour in September 2003."

There are four wine bottles in the ad, each with the label depicted here.

That would be Argentina's Catena Winery.  
Well, both countries start with the letter "A," at least.  And they in the same hemisphere and located on the same planet.

 

WINE WRITING IN UTAH
I was amused seeing a wine column in the "Salt Lake City Weekly".
A recent column by wine writer Ted Scheffler features some interesting nuggets of information:

In discussing wines you can "bank on" being good, simply by winemaker we learn:
"...wines that I know will be superb before I ever open the bottle: money-in-the-bank wines. I can think of only a handful of winemakers in whom I have that kind of faith and trust. Helen Turley. Bonny Doons Randall Graham. Susie Selby. Maybe a few others."
Okay, so he misspells Randall's last name, but he's including Susie Selby on this list?  Is there something in the water in Utah?

Describing Chuck Wagner's "Mer Soleil" Chardonnay, Mr. Scheffler writes:
"Mer Soleil is to California Chard what Skippys is to peanut butter.."
Not being a peanut butter aficionado, I'm afraid this requires some translation.  

As they approached the main course, lamb, another red wine was required.  Mr. Scheffler writes:
"But hey, lamb and Cabernet go together like Michael Jackson and young boys. So why not open a bottle of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 1999?"
While I like the Cabernets of Caymus, I'm afraid this simile is not, at all, attractive to me.

As I seem to be saying with increasing frequency:  
YIKES!

 

WHAT'S THIS GOT TO DO WITH WINE?
The April 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine has a feature article on California winemaker Paul Hobbs.  I shared this article with my two colleagues and they both had the same reaction: "Stop!  I don't need to know all this personal stuff about a winemaker!"

We learn of Hobbs' involvement in making wines in Argentina, as one of his ex-wives lives there with their 8 year old daughter (whom we learn "knows the difference between Cabernet and Carmenre).  The ex-wife is "...a woman of reckless beauty who drives with more passion than attention and whose car appears to have scraped every wall in Mendoza."

Now there's some quality information!

We also learn that the 49 year old Hobbs "...clearly has a way with women....he is currently dating someone half his age."  Writer Jim Nelson describes Hobbs' residence in Healdsburg as "a perfect Napa bachelor pad."  (Healdsburg, by the way, is not in Napa, but Sonoma!)

The Gourmet article asserts Hobbs has a "freakishly sensitive palate" and that he can tell you what's wrong or right with a wine "in seconds flat."  Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena, with whom Hobbs has consulted, says Hobbs described the wines of the region "as tired wines...And he was right in that our wines were extremely oxidized, something like Sherry."

Wow.  That's impressive!  

Mr. Nelson writes of the hardships in winemaking in Argentina.
1).  "Thieves routinely steal the phone lines for scrap metal."
2).  "There's an endless stream of bureaucratic red tape."
3).  "The weather."  

We don't learn very much about the wines Hobbs makes, other than they're praised to high heaven (and, in my opinion, priced even higher!).  

And I left out the part about the family leaving the homestead in New York and moving to Mexico because of the poor economy (how's that for a twist??).
..

 

OPEN THIS END OF THE BOX
I heard from someone in France who was amused to see the sommelier of a restaurant had added a new "appellation" to the wine list.  

It seems this fellow had received a case of wine and on the top of the box is was labeled "CT OUVRIR."   So the wine maven immediately amended the wine list to have the Ct Ouvrir appellation.  

Apparently the sommelier was not much of a French speaker, since Ct Ouvrir means something like "Side (of the box) to Open" and has not much to do with the Cte de Beaune or  Cte-Rtie, for example.

 

WALL STREET JOURNAL'S  "CASE FOR COLLECTING WINE"
In an article advising readers of how to put together a dozen bottles of wine for "collecting" purposes, the Wall Street Journal offers some curious advice.  In a March 7, 2003 article on wine, authors Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher have some suggestions most wine savvy amateurs would not have thought of!

I, for one, would not suggest Bogle's Chardonnay in the first place, so I can't say I would recommend it for cellaring purposes, either.  The wine has very little character and is not going to blossom or improve with aging.

While France's Macon region may turn out some terrific wines, the idea of cellaring bottles of Laboure-Roi or Louis Jadot "Macon-Villages", about as "empty" a couple of wines as you can find from Burgundy, is not advice I would pass on to a customer I'm hoping to keep coming back to the shop!

In suggesting American Syrah wines, the WSJ writers spotlight Turnbull, Robert Craig and Qup.  But Turnbull and Craig have very little "history" in producing Syrah wines, while Qup (at least) HAS been making Syrah for many years as it's winemaker Bob Lindquist's specialty.  Readers are further advised, regarding Syrah wines: "don't be choosy."  Now that's some silly advice!  Does the Wall Street Journal have the same philosophy with respect to the stock market or other investments???

In suggesting Sauternes, readers are advised to lay down a half bottle "not just because it gets better, but because it gets darker and even more beautiful in the clear bottle." 

They take a back-handed swipe at Pinot Grigio wines, saying most "should have been drunk yesterday."  And readers are urged to buy an "inexpensive 2000 Bordeaux...You could get lucky, finding these taste much more expensive later."  

 

GERMANY'S 2001 VINTAGE HYPE
The Wine Spectator has news for Germany's top wine critics:  2001 is "the best vintage since 1971" and they're rating the vintage as a "98" on their 100 point scale.

In their March 31st, 2003 edition, The Wine Spectator offers a vintage chart from 1985 through 2001.  Apparently, no wine was made in Germany in the year 2000, as it does not appear on this chart.

While 2001 is certainly a very good year for many wine regions and many top vintners made some exceptional wines, I have been impressed by the campaign to promote the 2001 vintage from Germany.  In my visits around Germany, most winemakers say it is a very fine year, but there is not the same level of salesmanship going on there as here in the United States.  I've asked our German friends, avid consumers of the local products, about 2001 and they report there is not the same level of publicity for the vintage in their backyard.

We have tasted many really terrific wines from 2001, so I don't mean to denigrate the wines.  But I do wish to point out there are many really excellent years to choose from.  At a large tasting of 2001s, I can tell you the vintage date on the label is not a guarantee of quality!  

Further, here are the ratings from Germany's annual wine guide by Armin Diel and Joel Payne:  They use a 5 "grape bunch" (we'll call them stars for simplicity) system.

Several points to be made:

1.  There is not a shortage of really good German wines on the market.  

2.  Keep in mind that Germany, like France, Italy, California and many other wine producing states or countries are often too large to have a single rating to assess the qualities of a particular vintage.  Any wine "expert" will differentiate between Bordeaux and Burgundy vintages.  How can these so-called experts offer one rating to the entire country???

3. Weimax staffer  Bob Gorman points out "A vintage chart is helpful if you're buying wines someplace where nobody can guide you to a good wine.  It's merely a probability rating, giving you a better chance of hurling a dart in the dark and hitting somewhere close to a bull's eye."  

4.  Many top winemakers, these days, have higher standards for various quality levels than the legal requirements mandate.  So, for example, today we have more producers using Sptlese quality fruit and bottling the wine as a Kabinett, while using grapes of Auslese ripeness for their Sptlese wines.  Doesn't this negate the vintage chart, to some extent, as cause tasters to put more emphasis on who makes the wine, rather than what year it's from?

5. So far, 2001 is the "Vintage of The Century," challenged only by the 2002's (which many producers regard as the superior vintage).

THE REGION 2001 RATING
in the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2003 Edition
1 to 5 star scale
OTHER RECENT VINTAGE RATINGS
AHR 5 stars 1999 & 1997 are 5 star vintages.
BADEN 4 stars 1993, 1996 & 1997 are 4 star vintages.
They do not have a 5 star vintage since 1992.
FRANKEN 3 stars 2000, much maligned, is a 4 star vintage, as are 1992, 1994 & 1997.
MOSEL-SAAR-RUWER 4 stars 1994 is the only 5 star vintage, with 1992 through 2001 being 4 star years, with 2000 ranking as a 3 star vintage.
NAHE 4 stars 1993 is rated more highly, a 5 star vintage.  1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998 are 4 star vintages.
PFALZ 4 stars 1998 is rated as a 5 star vintage, with 4 stars being awarded to 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997.
RHEINGAU 4 stars 1993 is a 5 star vintage, with 4 stars awarded to 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999.
RHEINHESSEN 3 stars Best vintages are the 4-starred 1998, 1996 and 1993 vintages

SAALE-UNSTRUT

2 stars

Best vintages are the 3 starred 2000, 1994 and 1992 vintages.

SACHSEN

2 stars

Best vintages are the three-starred 1999, 1998, 1994 and 1992 vintages

WRTTEMBERG 4 stars Both 1997 and 1993 are 4 star years.

 

 

 

BANNING FRENCH WINES ??
Maybe you find it somewhat amusing (or ironic) that a number of local and federal legislators are proposing resolutions (or stronger measures) to ban wines produced in France. 
Angered by France's opposition toward America's foreign policies, a number of legislators are suggesting the U.S. impose trade sanctions on French wines.
Interestingly, these trial balloons are being floated by Republicans who often proclaim there is too much government intervention in private life.

That being their platform, perhaps these legislators ought to let consumers decide for themselves whether or not to buy French wines.

 

THE NEXT NAPPA?
The CBS TV station in Des Moines, Iowa covers, like most metropolitan news outlets, "local news."  In posting a story it carried on the air waves, the station reported in late December, 2002, news of a possible "Iowa Wine Trail."  In posting this story on its web site, the headline is:
Iowa Could Be Next Nappa Valley
15 Wineries Are Now Operating In Iowa
POSTED: 6:03 p.m. CST December 30, 2002
UPDATED: 6:04 p.m. CST December 30, 2002

Maybe people in the Napa Valley are spelling the name of The Hawkeye State as "Iowwa"?

What better place to make wine?  After all, the State Flower is the "Wild Rose" and the State Tree is the "Oak."

As for KCCI's website spell-checker: He or she must have been "napping."

 

SF CHRONICLE'S NEW "WINE" SECTION
The San Francisco Chronicle has been tooting its horn regarding a "new" weekly section of the newspaper.  This is done, quite obviously, in hopes of stimulating more advertising revenue.  

On one hand, it's nice to see more editorial space devoted to wine.  On the other hand, isn't it a shame that "Wine" and "Food" (published on Wednesdays, a day before the wine section) don't "go together"?  

 

"THE PERFECT COMPANIONS" -- WINE & FOOD PAIRINGS FROM WINE GURU ANDREA IMMER
I'm all for educating the American public to the joys of wine.  In our shop we typically ask several questions of our customers in the course of making a wine recommendation.  This helps us better match the wine to the customer's taste and to the particular food being served.

I noticed the department store called Target is getting into the wine business.  They hired Master Sommelier Andrea Immer to help take the mystery out of wine.  

One of my cohorts in the Vino Fino Wine-Tasting Group, John McGlothlin, sent me a mailer from Target, pointing out that at our tastings, we have little in the way of palate cleansers.

Ms. Immer offers the following suggestions as "The Perfect Companions":

CHOCOLATE & SHIRAZ
"Think of chocolate-dipped berries and you'll understand the appeal of this luscious match.  Try Fetzer Valley Oaks Shiraz with Dove Dark Chocolate Promises."

POPCORN & CHARDONNAY
Buttery, toasty popcorn loves the buttery, toasty taste of Chardonnay with a kiss of tropical fruit flavors.  Pair Orville Redenbacher's Butter Gourmet Popping Corn with Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay."  

SALTED NUTS & PINOT GRIGIO
The racy refreshment of Pinot Grigio is the perfect complement to a nutty, crunchy, salty snack.  Planter's Deluxe Mixed Nuts and Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio are terrific together.

CORN CHIPS & SAUVIGNON BLANC
Sauvignon Blanc tastes like a fresh squeeze of lime--delicious with the toasted corn crunch of chips.  Tostitos Tortilla Chips are great with Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.

I don't make this stuff up!  
John McGlothlin suggests we "hold the Champagne & Oysters" that have been a customary pairing at our holiday wine-tasting dinner.  He, apparently, likes the Tostitos and Sauvignon Blanc marriage.

 

 

 

JOE BOB TASTES WINE!
Syndicated writer Joe Bob Briggs asks in an October 11th, 2002 column when did Italians start charging $225 for a bottle of wine?

Joe Bob doesn't blame The Wine Advocate, Robert Parker, for all of the inflated pricing of these wines, but he does get his licks in:

"The only problem was that, as soon as Parker came out with a recommendation, a little cardboard sign would go up in the liquor store: "A 93 From Parker!" And the price would immediately go up 20 bucks. I hate Robert Parker. He needs to shut up."

Joe Bob continues his ranting:

"The Bricco selection is made with near super-ripe fruit from one of the finest vineyards in Treiso. Its still-developing aromas disclose sweet notes of jam and tobacco with just the right hint of toasty oak. The palate is still tannic but already presents admirable balance. This is a bottle that will keep winelovers smiling for many years to come."

Well, it won't have ME smiling for years to come, because you just made the price go up 30 bucks by telling people it tastes like jam and tobacco. One thing I know about wine snobs is that they'll drink ANYTHING that sounds like ingredients that would make you instantly puke under real-life conditions.

Offer somebody tobacco-flavored jam and he'll think you're an idiot, but offer the same guy a wine that has "sweet notes of jam and tobacco," and he'll say: "Gimme one case for the cabinet and one for the cellar."

I know guys who get orgasmic over wine that tastes like "fresh-mown hay," so the ideal wine flavor would be something like drilling mud with rat-dropping highlights and a cat's-breath aftertaste."

We've never seen that description on the back label of a wine bottle, but we have a feeling we've tasted that particular offering!

Here's a link to Mr. Briggs' column:
http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20021011-042143-5365r

 

RESTAURANT ROBBERY
The Los Angeles Times' writer David Shaw produced an article for their October 16th edition of the newspaper asking this question:
WHAT IS THIS, A WINE LIST OR A STICKUP?

Shaw tells a sommelier "I've found a lot (of wines) I like but nothing I can afford.  Given these confiscatory prices, you should be carrying a gun instead of that tastevin."

Having purchased a Sancerre for $16.99 the previous day, Shaw was shocked to see the same identical wine on the wine list for $65.  

"That's not a reasonable profit.  That's highway robbery.  Or as Alan Greenspan would put it, 'infectious greed.' "

One nearby dining establishment asks $45 for a wine they paid $10.  A $38 offering on their list cost them six bucks!   I'll order a beer instead, thanks very much!  

 

QUALIFICATIONS FOR BEING A WINERY REP
A fellow from a sizeable Napa winery arrived the other day to show his wines.  We tasted a watery, light, thin Sauvignon Blanc (they have the nerve to charge consumers $15+ for the privilege).

I sarcastically inquired as to whether their vineyard sources were producing 10 or 15 tons per acre.  The fellow said their winemaker was  quality-oriented, "...so I'd say it's probably closer to ten tons per acre rather than 15."

The statistical average for Sauvignon Blanc in Napa is five tons per acre.  Not that the ten tons response is out of the realm of possibility.

In any case, it's apparent that the main qualifications for being a winery rep is having the strength to carry a shoulder bag full of sample bottles and the ability to operate a corkscrew.

 

DIPLOMACY & CUSTOMER SERVICE
A fellow brought a bottle of wine for me to taste.  He'd purchased it elsewhere and bought a whole case.  He opened three bottles and wrote a letter to the producer saying:
"...I found them all cloudy, full of sediment and had to resort to straining it before attempting to drink it.  This is not my idea of enjoying a glass of wine...Enclosed is a bottle from the case for you to examine.  I would appreciate hearing from you on how you plan to resolve this case of bad wine."

The winery proprietor wrote back, saying they had received the bottle and stood it upright:
"...and the sediment fell to the bottom of the bottle within 24 hours as it should.  The wine is clear as checked with a flashlight.  I can only assume one of two things, either you are trying to extort something from me or you truly don't have a clue about wine."  

Gee, that's rather curious customer service, isn't it?

The letter goes on to explain about the process of decanting and concludes with this: 
"You may be one of those people that wants instant gratification and in that case I suggest that you drink wines that are only one or two years old or are mass produced like Beringer.  As a rule they strip their wines pretty heavy so you probably won't get sediment right away..."  

I wonder what the Beringer people think of this winemaker's, uh, recommendation of their products?  
Oh...we tasted this bottle and found it to be a bit gassy and rather sharp on the tongue.  The flavors were more like tart grapefruit or orange juice than Pinot Noir.  I don't think a Burgundian vintner (of quality wine) would be especially proud of this stuff.

 

"A SEASONED WINE PRO OFFERS LESSONS" ON SELLING WINE IN A RESTAURANT
A restaurant wine consultant offers some tips to restaurateurs geared towards "looking good to both our guests and controllers."

Randal Caparoso contends that selling wine in a restaurant at a lower mark-up to create sales "is a myth, plain and simple."    He writes in "Sant" magazine, a publication geared towards "restaurant professionals," that you "cannot entice customers to spend more money by lowering the price of your higher quality wines."  
I don't know about you (how could I?), but I will buy a more costly bottle of wine if it's fairly priced and I avoid over-priced "budget" bottles on wine lists.

Now suppose this fellow was working for you and you read this?
"It is not good to upsell...So what if extra wine sales increase your averga e cover from $35 to $55.  Is this what you want?"  
All I can say is "Huh?"  I can tell you that in our shop, we are not very pushy and we don't often "upsell," but I can't imagine a restaurant owner being happy to read this!  Mr. Caparoso contends that "most 200-seat restaurants have found that they need to work harder at keeping their average checks down, while continuing to increase the quality of their product and service."  
By this "logic," one would expect the servers to be trained to highlight "Le Hamburger" instead of "Le Filet Mignon."  As long as they're "down selling," how about steering customers clear of bottles of Dom Perignon in favor of a pitcher of Budweiser?  That ought to do the trick quite handsomely!

I do agree with his assertion that "A 'great' wine list does not make a restaurant great."  Look at how many places have gone down the tubes in the San Francisco Bay Area that have had wonderful wine lists but not outstanding food, service and value.  

WAIT!  Read on!

The September 2002 issue arrived and features an article by a Master Sommelier named  Rob Bigelow.  It's entitled THE ART AND SCIENCE OF UPSELLING.
I kid you not!
Mr. Bigelow has a short "course" entitled "Upselling 101," urging restaurateurs to "Know your products...Listen to your guests...Provide guests with more than one option at more than one price point...Observe the customers' reactions to your suggestions...and...Assess your guests' satisfaction with your recommendations while looking for further opportunities."    Mr. Bigelow, employed in Las Vegas, profiles some of his colleague's "upselling" techniques:
One fellow, nicknamed "Doctor" because he "sells by the book with surgical precision."  
Another fellow, nicknamed "Crash," "...likes the backselling technique.  He recommends wines under his guests' budget, making it much easier to sell a second bottle or upsell to a more expensive alternative." 
The wine director at one establishment is nicknamed "Caligula."  He "...believes visitors come to Las Vegas with expanded thirsts, appetites and budgets.  He starts high and goes higher with his recommendations.  His approach works."
A fellow dubbed the "Professor" is said to "assay his guests' jewelry to determine potential spending power but may, if he's really busy, diplomatically inquire about a guest's budget to expedite the selection process."
A "rising star" sommelier whose moniker is "The Phenom" is described as "a rising star."  Bigelow writes "He can take guests from a $50 Chianti to a $1,000 Barolo before they know what hit them.  He stresses the rarity and uniqueness of the better bottle, and his guests follow" according to the article.

I suggest visitors to Las Vegas ought to watch their wallets when dealing with these people!  

 

HOW WINE IS SOLD  (WINE MARKETING 101)
A SHORT COURSE

I frequently have trouble "connecting the dots" to explain how wine marketing people choose to sell wine.  I'm sure you may have some suggestions to add to this list.  Please send them to me.




1.  WINE IS BEST WHEN SOLD TO PEOPLE WHO WANT IT THE LEAST.
Wine marketing people always want to target "the right people" as being "worthy" of drinking their fine product.  Many times, "the right people" are not interested in buying or drinking those wines.  

For example, we purchased a bottle of a new winery's first Chardonnay, tasted it, liked it, bought a few cases, sold them, bought some more, sold them and wanted to purchased additional cases.  "No," we were told.  "We have a five case maximum per account and you've already bought seven.  We'll have another released next year."  
Five months later they called to tell us they had "found" more wine and how many more would we like?  Any amount.  You see, they had been saving the wine for other accounts who had little interest or enthusiasm for the wine.  We were so enthusiastic, they couldn't sell us any more for fear they'd run out of wine!

Wineries typical hold wine for "valued" accounts.  "Valued accounts" means restaurants, despite the fact that wine is pretty much a sideline feature in about 95% of dining establishments.  Shops such as ours, who SPECIALIZE IN WINE, are viewed as less desirable.  For some reason, the marketing geniuses view us as competitors, rather than as their ambassadors.  

Most marketing people grab a Zagat's Restaurant Guide, see the top restaurants in a particular locale, and demand of their sales people to get their wines on that dining establishment's wine list.  They are all trying to cram into a small elevator.  How much "prestige" does it add to their brand by having a few bottles of wine sold (or cooked with) by some fancy restaurant?  

Many wine marketing people cannot sense the difference between "filling the pipeline" and actually generating sales and "turnover" of their products.


2. THE FARTHER AWAY FROM THE WINERY THEY CAN SELL THE WINE, THE MORE INTERESTING THE SALE.
This is almost universally true!
European winemakers LOVE to sell their wine to crazy people like us in California.  It gives them a nice excuse to come for a visit.  Plus, they can brag to all their friends that they sold wine to some outfit 6,000 miles away!  Similarly, California wineries find selling a few boxes of wine to some distributor in Europe is far more intriguing than selling it to the locals who are begging them for wine.  It gives the Californian vintner an excuse to test airport security and have a nice little junket.  
On the other hand, I've seen many bottles of California wine on my excursions to Europe and can tell you there are numerous old, dusty, spoiled bottles of wine on display merely as "window dressing," not as a viable commercial product. 

3.  RESTAURANTS ARE THE BEST WAY TO "BUILD YOUR BRAND."  
This notion may have held water (or wine) back in the "old days."  In the "old days," dining out was a special experience.  People would venture out to a restaurant for a special occasion and treat themselves to a bottle of wine.  Maybe they'd be introduced to a wine that actually tasted good enough to buy again.  Of course, in the "old days," there were about 20 wineries in total in Napa.  
The idea was people would have a good experience with wine and even drain cleaner tasted pretty good when served in a locale where the kids are screaming, the phone isn't ringing with some telemarketing guy trying to sell you insurance, debt relief or a newspaper subscription and you don't have to attend to a barking dog.  
Now restaurants have huge wine lists which can be updated on a computer between lunch and dinner.  In the "old days," the list was printed once every few years and was a big, plastic laminated thing printed at the expense of the distributor or wine company who sold the wines to the dining establishment.  
The wine marketing whizzes routinely demand their sales team (or, sales prevention technicians) sell 75-80% of the wine in restaurants, the meager 20-25% in stores.  (Don't they realize most people dine at home 90% of the time?  Why don't they want their wine on the table when someone is hosting a dinner party?  Why don't they want their wine on the tables of those wine enthusiasts who visit our shop who are having a gathering of their gourmet group?)    

4.  RESTAURANTS DESERVE A BREAK, BUT CONSUMERS DON'T.
Wineries seem to bank at financial institutions that give them a special rate for payment written on checks from restaurants.  We've seen the following examples recently:  Stores are asked to pay $192 a case for Wine "A," while the restaurant price is $144.  Wine "B" costs a store $132 a case, while a restaurant pays $96.  Wine "C" goes for $154 to a shop, while a pizza parlor pays $108.  Do dining establishments add that much value to the wine?  Probably not.  So, near as we can tell, some bank (someplace) must be cashing the checks for 125% (or so) of the face value of the check!

5.  "IF A CONSUMER WANTS OUR WINE, THEY CAN CALL US AND BUY IT DIRECTLY."
Our shop has wines from all over the planet.  Good wines, carefully selected with an eye towards quality.  You can find wines here which are hard to find in their homeland (see Rule #2 above), but some local producers have the idea that having their wine in a store somehow sullies the luster of their brand.  Therefore, once someone has tasted the wine at a friend's house or a restaurant, they'll be obliged to call the winery directly and maybe they'll be added to the waiting list of consumers hoping to buy a bottle of wine.  This sales model may work in a few instances, but imagine if you went to the grocery store to buy produce for a salad.  Except that the lettuce growers only sell directly, so you'll have to call each one separately to be able to build your salad.  The tomato grower has also decided to sell directly, so tomatoes are no longer available in the store.  The cucumber grower, seeing that his neighbor, the lettuce farmer, sells directly, now has stopped selling to the local market and uses UPS for shipments of cukes.  If this were the case, perhaps people would stop preparing salads.  
One customer told me "I'm now in the wine business.  I like Chateau Wazoo's Pinot Noir, but they only sell it by the case.  I don't like to drink it every day, so I have to find 5 friends to each buy a couple of bottles.  I used to buy it from you, but they're not selling you the wine any longer."  

6.  FANCY RESTAURANTS ARE THE BEST PLACE TO SHOWCASE OUR WINE.
This is a tangential issue to Rules 1, 2, 3 & 4.  What the marketing people don't know is how much wine a restaurant sells that never hits a wine glass!  It's delivered in the front door and exits out the back.  We get faxes from a couple of companies that sell wine on the secondary market, purchasing it at a premium price from restaurateurs and re-selling it to those who actually want it badly enough, they'll pay a premium price.  It's kind of like those guys who are scalpers standing outside a stadium, offering tickets.  Hopefully the tickets are not counterfeits!  
Further points:

bulletWe've noticed many restaurant wine lists feature wines that don't pair very well with the cuisine. 
bulletSometimes the restaurant mark-up is so high, a customer feels fleeced when buying the wine.  (A local place asked $45 for a wine we had for $15.  The same place has an Italian red for $38.  Our customer wanted a case but couldn't believe he could buy the same wine for $8 a bottle AND get a case discount.  --He said he felt badly because the restaurant had taken advantage of his ignorance.  "I won't be back to dine there." he told us.--
bulletNot all wines sold "by the glass" are actually sold.  Our colleague Ellen has asked restaurant servers to kindly bring the bottle to her table of the wine she ordered.  On more than one occasion, the restaurant has featured a particular wine-by-the-glass, but poured her something else without alerting her to the substitution.  
bulletMany restaurants don't have wine preservation systems and yet they'll pour a glass of (oxidized) wine from a bottle opened several days prior to your dining there.  
bulletWe've encountered stemware that's not properly cleaned and smells of the bleach used to sanitize the glass.  (Few restaurants have a dishwasher system using hot water, so they are obliged to use a bleach rinse to ensure cleanliness.  If the glass is not properly cleaned, you can be served a pour of Chateau Clorox.)
bulletHaving rejected a corked bottle of "Chateau A," the Maitre d' brought the wine list to ask we order "something else," since he didn't feel the bottle we had rejected with the server was, indeed, flawed.  We insisted he open a second bottle, which was in perfect condition.  He poured the wine around the table, having the green light to do so.  But he also asked for a taste (and never returned to say he found the two bottles to be different)!

7.  PEOPLE NEED TO PAY A PREMIUM PRICE SO THEY KNOW THE WINE IS GOOD.
We've heard or read this on more than one occasion.  Some vintners don't think you'd recognize the quality of the wine in their bottle if you haven't been asked to pay a king's ransom.  We know some very good producers who tell us they have to actually "work" to sell their reasonably-priced wines and are frustrated to see others (apparently) selling wine for exorbitant prices for inferior products.  It is true that a number of brands have made a career out of selling something more highly prized for its (designer) label, than for the contents of the bottle.  

8.  OUR NEIGHBORS GET $100 A BOTTLE, SO WE'RE DOING YOU A FAVOR BY ASKING ONLY $75.
Yes, and some wineries have been in business for 25 years (or more) and have increased prices at a modest rate, while other vintners feel they can "start at the top."  Whatever happened to the notions of "earning your spurs" or "making money the old-fashioned way: earning it!"???

9.  THE ABNORMAL, SELLER'S MARKET CONDITIONS OF THE LATE 1990's HAVE CHANGED AND RETURNED TO SOMETHING CALLED "NORMAL."  VINTNERS SHOULD LOOK IN THE MIRROR FOR A REASON AS TO WHY THEIR NECTARS AREN'T SELLING AT THE SAME RATE.
Yes!  Imagine, it's a buyer's market for the most part.  Yet we know in this point of the "cycle" that many marketing people choose to ignore reality and lay the blame for slow sales on their broker/distributor/retailer/restaurateur.  It rarely occurs to them that the high price and increasingly competitive market may be factors squeezing them off the field of play.  We know that many producers are looking at changing distribution as a result.  They ought to look in the mirror first.  

Some vintners HAVE reduced their prices!  We've tasted a good number of $20 wines which have price tags on them of $50-$100 a bottle.  Some have reduced the price by a mere 10%, testing the waters to see if that modest reduction is enough to generate interest.  

10.  SOME IMPORTERS BELIEVE THEY HAVE A LICENSE TO STEAL.
There are a few firms which are either so inefficient in terms of importing and selling wine or they're simply greedy bastards.   We tasted some Australian wines from an importer who had optimistically priced the wines.  I found these to be worth about ten bucks a bottle, but they were asking close to $20.  The importer felt they could "get away" with asking the high price since "people pay so much for California wines."  The wines sell for ten bucks to consumers in their home territory.  

Another firm imports some modest European wines.  These are listed as costing $7-$10 at the winery.  The importer pays less, getting a quantity discount and not having to pay the Value Added Tax assessed on local purchases.  It costs about a buck a bottle to ship the wine to California and pay the federal and state taxes.  The wholesale price of one of these wines is nearly $400 for a case of twelve bottles!!!

One importer told us they asked unusually high prices on their red wines, since they routinely have to dump old, unsold, un-saleable white wines.  Apparently the idea of not buying wines that are so difficult to sell has not occurred to these fellows.

 

YOU CAN'T HAVE MY WINE, BUT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY SOME?
We purchase a lot of bottles of wines as samples for our tastings.  I purchased a wine from a small, new producer from the winery web site here on the internet.  The wine was delightful, Bob, Ellen and myself ranking it highly in a blind-tasting.  I sent the winemaker, whom I'd first met in the mid-1970s, a note saying how much we enjoyed the wine and how we'd be interested to purchase some for the shop.

I received a nice e-mail in return saying the wines are only being sold to private customers directly and "select restaurant accounts."  

The winery spent a small fortune to send out a fancy release letter recently.  Since I had purchased a single bottle of wine, I was allocated all of "one bottle" of one of several wines being released.  I laughed at this sales technique, especially since the cost of obtaining this $32 bottle of wine would be $50 by the time I paid for the shipping box, handling and shipping.  

The other day there was a message on my answering machine "reminding" me of their release letter and asking that I kindly contact the winery so I wouldn't "miss out" on my "opportunity" to purchase the newly-released offerings.  

I'm guessing they have wine for sale.  How long before they'll have to "lower themselves" to selling to shops is anyone's guess.  Stay tuned!

Post-Script: I was informed recently that this winemaker hired a Public Relations agency at the cost of $50,000 annually in an effort to promote the wines.  Perhaps they've not considered "hiring" wine merchants such as ourselves who work for wineries for a very modest sum (a wholesale price on the wine, for example)!

 

ON WINE SPEAK
I attended a tasting of French Burgundy wines the other day.  The fellow who was explaining the wines to the group didn't strike me as being especially knowledgeable, nor passionate, about the wines of Burgundy.  He did know that the wines from these producers were "estate bottled...You know, they grow their own grapes and make their own wines and then bottle their own wine."  And, since many of the sales reps from the distributor are young fellows, he gave them a "pep talk" and got them all in a locker-room frenzy about holding this sort of tasting again.
"Do we wanna have this tasting annually?" he screamed.
"YES!!!" they all yelled back, applauding this notion.


He then explained that "Burgundian technology has improved dramatically over the past 70 years."  Most producers, these days for example, have indoor plumbing and electricity.  Knowing, though, that those who critique Burgundy have a preference for minimal cellar treatment, this fellow continued the diatribe:
"And these producers practically don't filter their wines at all!"

Huh?  

Even more perplexing is a winery web site which explains the viticulture in their vineyard:
"The six year old Alexander Valley wines are semi-dry farmed...."

Maybe some of the bright lights out in cyber space (that would be you, I'm certain) can explain to this dim bulb how one "semi dry farms" a vineyard!!!

 

MORE EXPERTISE FROM THE WINE SPECTATOR
The Wine Spectator's "Wine of the Day" for July 29, 2002 is  highlighted on their web site's home page:

icon
New for July 29:
This tasty 2000 red comes from one of the Loire's qualitative leaders.

Spectator staffer Bruce Sanderson describes the wine:

"
From one of the Loire's qualitative leaders comes this tasty Pouilly-Fum. Rich, delicious and very exotic, From one of the Loire's qualitative leaders comes this tasty Pouilly-Fum. Rich, delicious and very exotic, offering red cherry, green plum and herb flavors on a round, juicy profile. Firm acidity keeps it all together. Drink now. Tasted twice, with consistent notes."

Interestingly the wine is a Pascal Jolivet 2000 vintage Pouilly-Fum, a wine that is not listed on the winery's web site as being made from red grapes.  It seems, like all wines of the Pouilly-Fum appellation, that this is made entirely of Sauvignon Blanc.  

I received an e-mail from the winery regarding this:

"Thank you very much for your e-mail. A nose of red cherry for Sauvignon ! Well ...
 
No we do not yet commercialise any red wine in the Pouilly Fum appellation and as you know the regulation is very strict in France with AOC ... no way it will one day possible ..."

Perhaps this is an indictment of the Spectator's "blind-tasting" policy.  Someone ought to open their eyes and do a visual check as to the color of the wine they're evaluating!  It ought to be an eye opener for those who put their faith in the "expertise" of some wine journalists!

 

 

A WINEMAKER'S THOUGHTS ON THE CRITICS
I received this message from a California winemaker, who shall remain anonymous here for his/her own protection.

I had noted, in the course of our correspondence, the Napa News article (below) about the "Pot Calling The Kettle Black."  (Scroll on down and have a quick look.)

Here's the winemaker's missive:
"I did see the story on Laube and yes, he is an utter hypocrite.  He wrote a probing story a while ago about the use of additives, ameliorants in your wines - this would be the added tannin, added pigments, acid additions, reverse osmosis treatments and how these treatments diverged from "natural" wine. 
But it is precisely these wines that have been fucked with to a fare-thee-well that are the 93-95 pointers.  I don't know if he is just terminally cynical or has no self-awareness or what.  And don't get me started on his palate.  
Both The Wine Spec and Parker have one scale for evaluating wine and that is intensity.  This is a bit like evaluating a musical composition based on how loud it was played.  But I have to see the man as I feel that he has consistently given us ratings less than I feel we have deserved."

Note to other winemakers:  If you've got a comment about those who write about wine and want a place to anonymously "vent", please send me a note and we'll consider posting your diatribe here!

 

RESTAURANT WINE PROGRAM CITED

I don't see this publication, but I snagged a copy at a trade show.  Issue #87 features their "On Premise Wine Marketer of the Year."  
The article cites tremendous growth for this chain of Italian-themed restaurants, wine sales increasing 20% the previous fiscal year.  

How much wine per "cover" does this restaurant sell?
Keep in mind they're a family-oriented place, so probably this figure is reduced due to the number of non-drinkers dining at their restaurants.

Okay.  So...How much revenue from wine do they generate per person?

According to Restaurant Wine, they're hauling in 76-cents per patron!  Mighty impressive.  

While we applaud the introduction of wine to the masses, the wine list is certainly aimed at the very "lowest common denominator."  Thirty eight wines grace the list.  Eighteen of them are Italian.  Four Pinot Grigio selections are available, along with a Peach-Flavored Sicilian "Sangria" (or you can have the normal "red" flavor).  Three Chianti wines are available, along with two Amarone selections.  Five Merlot and six Chardonnays grace the list.  Those labels would be Turning Leaf, Simi, Gallo, Columbia Crest, Kendall Jackson and the like.  

The exciting news is they're adding wines, testing a 45-entry wine list to see if wines such as Australian Shiraz will sell.  To their credit, they are adding a Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and a Barbera. 

When I relayed some of this information to our colleague Bob Gorman he asked "Is this some sort of a drive-in Italian restaurant?" 

If you're interested in the publication, check out their web site:

http://www.restaurantwine.com

 

RESTAURATEUR ATTITUDE
The Napa Register's L. Pierce Carson writes about some of those restaurant staffs invited to participate in the 2002 Napa Valley Wine Auction.

He tells about the New York's "Le Cirque" staffers, who "refused" to fly to California to prepare a "test run" before the auction week, allegedly because the air tickets provided were not for seating in "first class."  As a result, the executive chef from The Meadowood flew back to the Big (Rotten) Apple to consult with these people.

And Chicago's "Charlie Trotter's" crew (Charlie couldn't make the event, having some ailment that precluded his traveling) demanded servers not speak about the food they were serving with the diners.  If any of those in the "audience" had a question, a cook from Chicago was to trot out to answer the query.  

 

WINERY P-R: "PURIST"
Sometimes I wonder if wineries should focus more attention on minor details such as grape growing and winemaking, rather than lavishing so much effort on press releases and promotional materials.

One stack of papers we received the other day writes of the biography of the winemaker.  
"Josephine (not her real name) is also a purist when it comes to blending varietals."  And it quotes her saying "I like to keep the integrity of the varietal."

As I peruse the "stat" sheets of their various wines we see  this winery's 2000 vintage Chardonnay is 93% Chardonnay and 7% Viognier.  A proprietary red wine is 100% Zinfandel, while a Syrah has 5% Zinfandel in it and two Zinfandels are augmented with Carignane!

 

WHAT GRAPES COST IN 2002
Robert Mondavi's "formula" for justifying the price of a bottle of wine was to divide the price per ton of grapes by 100 and you'd have the consumer's retail price.
Therefore, if a ton of fruit costs $2000, you ought to expect to pay $20 per bottle.  The chart below explains, in small part, why you don't see many $20 Napa Valley wines these days.

Here are the suggested prices for Napa Valley fruit from the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association for the coming 2002 Harvest, compared to the previous vintage.
GRAPE VARIETY 2002 PRICE 2001 PRICE
CABERNET SAUVIGNON $3,700-$4,500 $3,500-$4,500
CHARDONNAY $2,500-$2,800 $2,700-$2900
ZINFANDEL $2,800-$3,200 $2,500-$3,000
SAUVIGNON BLANC $1,700-$2,000 $1,700-$2,000
CABERNET FRANC $3,500-$4,300 $3,500-$4,300
MERLOT $3,000-$3,600 $3,000-$3,600
PETITE SIRAH $2,800-$3,200 $2,500-$3,000
PINOT NOIR $3,000-$3,500 $3,000-$3,500
NAPA GAMAY not listed $1,000-$1,300

SÉMILLON

$1,700-$2,000

$1,700-$2000

SANGIOVESE

$2,200-$2,500

$2,200-$2,500

SYRAH

$2,300-$2,800

$2,300-$2,800


The organization tells its members that "...grape prices are no longer driven by production costs alone.  If, for instance, your Cabernet grapes are going into a $40 bottle of wine, then you should strive toward approaching the upper end of our suggested price range."  

The group admits the wine industry in 2002 "faces challenges," but says since bottle prices are "on the rise" that the growers "need to send the right message to the wineries." 

The group claims to have conducted a survey which shows the "average bottle price" of a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is "...$51.17, up over 23% from last year."

Curiously, Petite Sirah costs more than Syrah!  Bottle prices for Petite Sirah range from about $15-$40, while many fancy Napa Valley Syrah wines have a bottle price of $50!

Here's an interesting stat from 2001 in Napa: Sauvignon Blanc averaged very close to 5 tons of fruit per acre and sold for $1584/ton.  Chardonnay averaged 3.41 tons per acre at $2298 per ton.  With average yields, a grower of Sauvignon Blanc received $7872/acre, while a Chardonnay grower managed, with an average yield, to pull in $7836/acre!

The average yield for Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa in 2001 was 3.66 tons/acre.  Merlot, a more prolific variety, produced but 3.47 tons/acre!  If you're wondering why Napa Pinots are often less-than-stellar, consider the average yield is 4.06 tons/acre.  Syrah growers averaged 4.6 tons/acre.

There are only 19 acres of Gewürztraminer in Napa and just 5 acres of Roussanne (with 6 tons/acre being the average yield!!!).

Central Valley fruit averaged $474/ton in 2000, down from $525 in 1999.  Early reports for 2001 indicated a soft market for grapes.  I haven't seen a report for pricing for 2002, yet.

Keep in mind wineries in prestigious areas can "water down" their Napa or Sonoma County fruit with as much as 25% of wine from other, less costly areas.  You don't think some producers do that, do you....????  
Nahh.....

 

POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK
Napa News writer Paul Franson asks if this isn't an example of the pot calling the kettle black.

In his May 22, 2002 column, Franson writes:

"In the latest issue of the Wine Spectator, respected long-time editor and Napa resident Jim Laube laments that many $80 wines are really only worth $20 except that their producers' egos won't let them sell the wines for that little. He adds that in current economic conditions, any wine priced at more than $40 is susceptible to consumer resistance.

His comments are a bit ironic since the Wine Spectator -- and Jim -- have glorified these pricey wines for years. Like Dr. Frankenstein, he's condemning the monster he created."

 

WINE "VALUES"
The Wine Spectator is out with its annual issue covering "value-priced" wines.  May 31, 2002.

Somehow, when I think of a "value-priced" wine, I'm thinking of something in the range of $5-$15 a bottle.

That just proves what a dinosaur I must be!  The Dictator defines "value" pricing as wines costing $40 or less a bottle!  No wonder so many West Coast winemakers think $20-$30 is an "every-day" priced bottle of wine.  

 

WINE & FOOD---A PARKER PALATE PERSPECTIVE
A colleague and friend called the other day to ask me what sort of wine I'd serve with Dim Sum.  (I think the Aussies know this as "Yum Cha.")

I thought about our local Dim Sum emporiums and the flavors one usually encounters.  My mind's "palate" came up with New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, certain favorite Sancerres, dry Rieslings from Alsace, Germany and Austria, perhaps a dry Ros, maybe a Pinot Gris, Albario from Spain, perhaps a Champagne...maybe a light, fruity red that would be refreshing served chilled........

So, Charles sent me the article from the April 2002 "GQ" Magazine.  They won't let me subscribe, the way I dress!  Writer Alan Richman tells of a gathering, with wine guru Robert Parker, at a Virginia Dim Sum restaurant.  People brought wines:  Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne, Albert Boxler "Sommerberg" Riesling, Jaboulet Hermitage "La Chapelle," a Cabernet Franc from the Loire, etc.

Robert Parker's choice for this cuisine:  Piemontese Nebbiolo! 

The wine "god" has spoken!  They served Elio Altare's 1990 Barolo.  Angelo Gaja's 1990 "Sori Tildin" Barbaresco.  Bruno Giacosa's 1985 Barbaresco "Riserva" Santo Stefano and a "Piemontese Chianti," the 1970 Monsanto "Il Poggio (a wine which was made in such a tannic fashion in those days, it was more reminiscent of a hard-as-nails Nebbiolo!).  

The author of the article, Alan Richman, says he tasted a number of the wines before the dim sum plates were served and liked the Corton-Charlemagne and Boxler Riesling.  

He writes of the "unusual combination" of spinach and shrimp (remember, these people are in Virginia, not the San Francisco Bay Area!) and says he "sipped the 1985 Giacosa Barbaresco."  

"Parker was right." he claims.  "...the mouth-filling fusion of nebbiolo and dumpling was startlingly elegant."

This also goes a long way, perhaps, towards explaining the "blind spot" in assessing wines which do not have tons of tannin, alcohol, oak or sweetness.

I've asked a bunch of wine & food aficionados about wine & dim sum...watch this space for some responses!



Bay Area importer of French wine, Michael Sullivan suggested:
"German Riesling, southern French rose, Loire Chenin
(off dry), Basque white."

Wine consultant Rebecca Chapa writes:
"I LOVE dim sum and I find it goes really well with Champagne.  There are quite a lot of diverse flavors in dim sum, but to me most seem to have a similar oily texture.  I think Champagne (or I am sure sparkling wine would do) is great to liven up the palate and get it ready for the next flavor.  The acid and the bubbles are great at cleansing and refreshing.  I also really like aromatic whites.  Rieslings, Pinot Gris, but I think dry ones are better.  Most of the dim sum I am familiar with isn't too spicy so I don't usually need a German wine, but they aren't bad either.  I say the more acidity the better."

Bay Area wine sales-rep, Paul Manchester, checked in with:
"I would think of either a lighter, drier style Sauvignon Blanc or something from Alsace, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris? Parker probably recommended 70 Margaux or 99 Screaming Eagle, either way a less than helpful recommendation. Am I close?"

Our Canadian "Sommelier", Michelle Wandler writes:
"Dim Sum--Alsatian Gewrztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Tsingtao beer, German Riesling....So, who's god?"

Brent Wiest, who imports some great German wines, suggests:
"
Dim sum as I understand it can offer up a fairly broad range of ingredients.  One wine that comes to mind is the '00 von Buhl Estate Riesling (we're out of the Buhl estate label, but have the same wine labeled as the Maria Schneider Riesling Med-Dry in stock).  I think it would cover a lot of bases regardless of whether or not the dishes are steamed or deep fried.   The Schnleber Estate Riesling Med-Dry would work nicely too.  Another food chameleon is the Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Kabinett.  The 1999 von Buhl Deidesheimer Maushhle Sptlese Med-Dry would be a good choice for a dish where you need a bit more weight.  If you're going to do the dessert end of things as well, I'd settle for nothing less than a wine like the Gunderloch Auslese, you'll need some residual sugar to keep up with the pudding or tart that served."

San Francisco Wine Authority Tom Brown offers these tips:
"
Henri Bourgeois Quincy,
Altenhofen's Ayler Kupp, QBA, Halbtroken
and believe it or not, Ramey Russian River Chardonnay.
Feuillatte Brut Champagne "Cuve Spciale" 1995,
Chteau Routas Ros from Provence...
Someone's Arneis and maybe a Soave Superiore.

I have had all these wines with Dim Sum sorts of foods and they all worked because of good acidity levels."

Syndicated Wine Guru Dan Berger writes:
"Dim sum is so many different flavors I would opt
for something with a bit of a flair, but not
exotic (since the food isn't often spicy). So I
would pick a Navarro Pinot Gris, or better yet a
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, preferably 2001 from Marlborough (The
Crossings, Lawson's Dry Hills, Nautilus, etc.)."

Barrel Broker and Lumber Vendor Mel "Hard" Knox:
I might go with Viognier, Albario, Rheingau, perhaps an Alsatian wine..."

Former Bay Area Resident and French Correspondent Valerie Aigron:
For the Dim sum I would go for some Alsatian wine (even
a dry Gewrztraminer).
Was is the correct answer ?

Bon Vivant, Winemaker, Philosopher and Owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard, Randall Grahm writes:
   
As far as dim sum, there is the traditional pairing of Champagne; I wouldn't get too fussy about which but I think a good Blanc de Blanc would be very nice. I might also try a dryish Vouvray  or other rich but dryish to off-dry Loire. Blanquette de Limoux might also be nice.   Then you can't go wrong with Riesling.  Personally, I am not such a great fan of the German trockens, with few exceptions.   The Breuer might be good (with at least 5 yrs. of age) or a Schiefferterrassen from Heymann-Lwenstein right out of the box.  In general, I would favor a Kabinett or Sptlese.  I think that the lower alcohol levels - 8-9% will not slow things down and the crisp acidity will be a nice foil to the grease that occasional attends dim sum. 

San Francisco's Grande Dame of Wine & Food Pairing Etiquette, Ms. Shirley Sarvis writes:
"The likely wines for Dim Sum are:
Dry Riesling (or as much balancing sweetness as is in the excellent Trefethen from Napa).
Sauvignon Blanc if not too herby and without wood.
Chenin Blanc if not too soapy.
Gewrztraminer if not too spicy and outspoken.
What did the "experts" say?
I sent Ms. Sarvis the Nebbiolo suggestion and she wrote back:
"Oh dear!  I cringe and wince at the "mental tasting" of Nebbiolo with Dim Sum.  Thank you for telling me of this new Parker news...I am going to share your fax with winemaker Ric Forman.  He'll appreciate the 'jolt'."

London Wine Merchant Rod Smith checks in with:

"Dim Sum, mmm tricky. given that's it's lunch/morning, I have to say I'm not sure I'd drink wine at all. With all that umami flying around I imagine high acidity is needed. So I'd go for dry (or maybe not so dry) German Riesling. Someone else I asked suggested, eminently sensibly I think, that Champagne is the only answer. And entirely forgiveable at the time of day.
 
Of course, to suggest dim sum is a 'mono-flavour' food is a bit wide of the mark, so you could very well ask 'what type of dim sum?'. I'd be impressed to find a wine that matched exactly 'deep fried frog'. I'm fairly adventurous food-wise, but when I was in Hong Kong, the frog didn't quite tempt me. And I vaguely remember drinking tea!!!! There isn't all that much truly good Chinese cuisine in London to be honest.
 
So who is 'god', and what did (s)he say?"

Aldo Vacca (who loves La Cucina Cinese and Dim Sum), former staffer at the Gaja winery and currently director of the Produttori del Barbaresco winery writes:
All right, dim-sum, something tasty, maybe spicy, with some guts, but not heavy or super aromatic: Freisa, Cantina del Pino style, Pigato or Vermentino from Liguria, German and Alsatian Pinot Blanc.... good enough?

Angelo Gaja, whose 1990 Barbaresco "Sori Tildin" Parker drank with Dim Sum, was asked to guess which wine of his was selected.
"Quale vino Gaja per il pranzo Cinese "dim sum"?  Alteni di Brassica (a Sauvignon Blanc) 1997, oppure Rossj-Bass (Chardonnay) 1998."
Even Angelo, who is quite a globe-trotter in promoting his wines, wouldn't have imagined a Nebbiolo with Dim Sum!

So far, no one has come close to suggesting a tannic, aged Nebbiolo!

 

THE JOYS OF RETAIL
A woman calls the other day with a complaint.
A friend of hers purchased a bottle of French red wine.  She opened it and used some for cooking.
She replaced the cork and left the bottle.

"I'm not blaming you," she told Ellen, "But whomever sold you this wine must have done something wrong when they bottled it."

Red wines, with modest levels of acidity, tend to deteriorate after being opened a day or two.

"My friends said I should call you, so you can contact the distributor and so they can call the winery to let them know of this problem." the woman explained.  "I'm not blaming you."

It seems this poor soul has had this opened bottle of wine sitting on her kitchen counter for more than a month and she's shocked to discover the wine now has an acetic character and is vinegary.  

I wonder if she's got six month old cartons of milk in the 'fridge?

 

EMBARRASSING STORY--THE VALUE OF A LABEL
A French winemaker told me this story, proving the value of the label that comes attached to every bottle of wine.

A famous winemaker is celebrating his 80th birthday.  The family has invited his best pals from around France.  As he is a mentor to many of the top young winemakers around the country, the guest list reads like a "Who's Who."  A couple of knowledgeable wine journalists are included. It's a surprise party, a dangerous bit of trickery to pull on a senior citizen!
 
One of the guests, who told me this story, asks one of the restaurant staff if they have any of the birthday boy's wines.
They do.
He orders a few bottles (40 people, so you need at least two).
The fellow asks that these be decanted and served "blind," so the crowd won't know what the wine is.  This guy enjoys making people play this guessing game.

This proved dangerous!

"I probably should have asked how much these bottles cost," he explains, "But I didn't and ordered them anyway.  The wine was presented and people were tasting, trying to identify it.  As I like to lead them down the wrong path, when several asked what the wine is, I told them it was made of Gamay."  

The guests, he reports, all swirled, sniffed and said, "Oh, Gamay.  Yes!" and they immediately poured the wine into the "spit buckets" which were on the table for discarded wine hoping to move on to something more interesting. 

Of course, had he revealed the wine was one made by the birthday boy, he would have embarrassed not only his old winemaker pal, but the entire group of friends and family!

So...the secret is out.  Don't tell anyone, but keep this tale in mind next time you're serving or being served something 'blind.'

 

SAY WHAT?! !? !?
The Wine Spectator's writer James Laube took the Mondavi winery to task recently, decrying their elegant style for not having enough "richness."
Laube, in July of 2001 wrote of winemaker Tim Mondavi:

"...he's decided to turn his back on a climate ideally suited for producing ripe, dramatic wines, and rein in those qualities so that the wines show restraint rather than opulence."

An editorial in January of 2002, Mr. Laube writes another article called "The Waiting Game," described by the publication as

"Senior editor James Laube wonders if winemakers are going too far by letting their grapes get ever more ripe."

Well, as one cool climate area wine writer told me recently, "
"I stay warm by reading Laube! Makes the blood boil.
And by the way, Laube was nominated for the Wine Appreciation Guild's "Wine Writer of the Year" award, and the ballot that came asked me to vote on one of the following three, and I quote:
'Michael Broadbent, James Halliday or James Lauby.' "

I'd bet Mr. Mondavi is at least as warm!

 

BIG STINK RAISED OVER WINE & FOOD MUSEUM'S "ART"
The organizers of Napa's wine & food shrine were caught with their pants down, so-to-speak, when their choice of art work made the international news.

Spanish-born artist Antoni Miralda contributed little 2-inch tall figurines which are traditional in Catalonia, especially during the holiday season.  These are called "Caganers" (shitters) and they routinely depict someone in the relatively delicate position of "pooping."  




The most traditional of these figurines is a man wearing his red beret (called a "barretina" in Catalan).  The photo to the left shows a rather typical depiction of this fellow.  People in Catalonia play a game with these whimsical figurines, hiding them in displays of Nativity scenes.  Friends and neighbors are invited to find these critters which have been "hidden."   It's some kind of twisted Catalan version of "Donde esta Waldo?" 

Even the Catholic church in Europe knows better than to interfere in this 200+ year-old tradition.  The popular interpretation of these figures has to do with the 'fertilization of the earth.'  I read a quotation from one old-timer in Catalonia noting that "even kings and popes" need to engage in this common and delicate activity at least once a day, or so.  

It is not uncommon for Catalans to remark "Menjar be I cagar fort / I no tigues por de la mort" ("Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death").

The famous artist Juan Mir paid homage to these little characters, depicting a caganer, though my eyes aren't good enough to catch this.  How come the zealots and guardians of morality haven't attacked Copia for the museum's logo depicting a female figure who appears not to be clothed!!!

I sent a curator at Napa's Copia a note of encouragement and a smart remark concerning an upcoming display of "mustard pots." 

"Now you'll really see some Grey Poupon!"

 

...REMEMBER, THESE GUYS ARE "EXPERTS"!
The Wine Spectator offers a "Wine of the Day" on its web site.  Sometimes even we, fussy as we are, approve of their selection.  As we did on December 6, 2001.
Charles Heidsieck's Non-Vintage Brut Champagne, designated as "Mis en Cave 1996" was the wine of the day.

This Champagne is labeled with the year the wine was "put in the cellar" (Mis en cave in French).  The idea is to show consumers their wine is, in fact, aged for three (or more) years on the spent yeast, in the bottle.  Most Champagne firms make this claim, but few can back it up in reality.

The Wine Spectator's Bruce Sanderson writes:
"This is a non-vintage wine that was disgorged in 1996."
Actually, no.
It was put in the bottle and in the cellar in 1996.  If you would look on the back of the bottle, you'll notice a disgorgement date (the time period in which they removed the sediment of the spent yeast).  This is, at least, three years.  
"The early disgorgement contributes to the gorgeous aromas and flavors of honey, hazelnut and brioche that mark this plush Champagne."
It is not an "early disgorgement" and that is Charles Heidsieck's whole point in making this wine!  It is disgorged later than most non-vintage Brut Champagnes.  

In any case, the wine is good.
The knowledge of the "experts" at The Wine Spectator is questionable.

 

BETTER WINEMAKING WITH MATH?
A Sonoma County winemaking consultation firm claims it can "assist winemakers in improving wine quality and boosting average national critics' ratings."
ENOLOGIX is the firm and it's owned by chemistry and math wizard, Leo McCloskey.  
His web site states that "Winemaking is an art, not a science" as Enologix promotes its Quality Management Systems' software for vineyard, winemaking and sales efforts.
McCloskey has analyzed wines on a chemical basis and claims to be able to predict a wine's score from The Critics based on chemical analysis.  
A "WIRED" magazine article by William Neuman sheds light on this subject:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.11/wine.html

Have a look at the article and see what you think.

McCloskey, as winemaker for Felton-Empire, made a number of sweet Rieslings.  I recall many of these continued to ferment in the bottle and the corks pushed out with such force that a case of wine flipped itself over (the bottles were packed with the corks 'down')!


WINE RATINGS---ARE THEY LEGIT?
A couple of California grocery stores were busted and paid $30k each in fines after being sued in Alameda County Superior Court in October of 2001.
San Francisco and Alameda County prosecutors found the chains had Point-of-Sale (POS) materials which often mis-represented ratings from publications or awards.  

In defense of these grocery chains, most POS is displayed by "merchandisers" for various sales companies or distributors.  Often times these individuals will post scores, ratings or awards which pertained to preceding vintages or wines long sold out.  

In our shop, we NEVER use the point-of-sale materials generated by wineries or distributors.  But most places that sell wine are rather clueless and lazy, relying on the words (or numbers) of various publications to get merchandise to move off the shelves.

A former staffer for a chain store in San Francisco tells the story of setting up a display of "The 90 Point Club."  No evidence of 90 point scores was included in the display, but the implication was, of course, that the wines on that rack had received high numerical scores.  

In an article by John Winthrop Haeger in Los Angeles Magazine (1998), a store displayed two recently-reviewed Chardonnays with the numerical scores of wine guru Robert Parker.  With the text of the review and the numerical scores, the 92 point wine outsold the 84 point wine by ten-to-one.  When the numerical scores were removed and only the Parker descriptions were visible, the wines sold at at one-to-one ratio!  


I WAS WITH YOU UNTIL THAT LAST SUGGESTION...
Sonoma County Eno-Scribe Dan Berger often writes an interesting column and something thought provoking.
In October of 2001 he's written one regarding "California champagne" (small "c" to distinguish it from French -real- Champagne).  After giving a thumbnail review of each of the major California firms :

Gloria Ferrer: "...Brut is reliable..."
Schramsberg: "...One of the old standbys, its Reserve is sublime..."
"J" by Judy Jordan: "Here the flavors are more lemony and grapefruity..."
Domaine Chandon: "...the winery's toile is one of the more deeply flavored of the domestics."
Domaine Carneros: "...Brut is ultra-sophisticated..."
Mumm Napa: "...this excellent producer also makes a deeply flavored Blanc de Noirs that's a bit fuller and works brilliantly with salmon..."
Roederer Estate: "...more complex wine than many listed here..."
Pacific Echo: "...seems to be improving annually..."
Iron Horse: "...makes a huge array of limited release wines, each of them superb..."

At the end of this article, Mr. Berger offers a tip for his "WOW" (Wine of the Week).  

Not to be snobby, but this article's "selection" is Sutter Home's White Zinfandel from the 2000 vintage.  Mr. B says it's better than ever "partly because the winery is now using a synthetic cork."  

This suggestion would be somewhat like a restaurant critic writing up favorably some fancy restaurant and then recommending for his "pick of the week" going home and opening a can of soup.  

Or a gemologist in a jewelry store showing you their finest diamonds, but finally suggesting you buy the cubic zirconium.....a movie critic writing about some classic film but suggesting you watch something like "Green Acres" on TV...

 

NICE MARK-UP !!!
I have long known I'm a bit of a dinosaur, having been in the wine biz since top Napa Cabernets cost all of three or four dollars a bottle.  
Prices have risen (and how!).  You can imagine my astonishment at dining in some local restaurants and seeing the prices asked for various wines.  

I ordered a beer instead of a ten buck glass of wine in one place.  The wholesale price of a bottle was about $5!

In another, I got a $19 bottle of French white, for a wine that retails for ten bucks.  Not a bad deal.  But the same place had a $15 Zin on the wine list for $45!!!  Another wine was on the list twice: once on the by-the-glass-page and another time under the particular varietal designation.  The prices were for a bottle were different, though!

We were in a funny little place that offers "value."  A red that retails for $5 was $22 on the wine list.  A $6 white costs $24.95 on the list.  We sell another selection for $8.49....it's $26.95 on the wine list.  The wines are served in water tumblers, as stemware doesn't exist in this place, even for the $75 Bolla Amarone!  

I looked around at all of these places and didn't find many tables with a bottle of wine on them.  

No wonder.

 

BEST BUYS
This really isn't news: American consumers buying Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio are being asked to pay a high price to support the marketing efforts of its importer, Paterno.

Ironic, though, to see Italy's "Gambero Rosso" wine magazine highlight this as a "Best Buy" for 2001.  The wine sells for 13,000 Italian lire, costing Italian consumers about $6.23 a bottle.  Surely the folks at Paterno pay less.  Yet in the US, this wine is usually seen in the $20 range, with restaurants asking $35-$45.  Some "Best Buy!"
  


WINE JOURNALISM
Some wine industry people view those folks who write about wine in the food sections of various local newspapers as "part of the industry."  They are often viewed as "cheerleaders" more than critics.

Since few have any "budget" to do their research, they rely upon wineries to send samples (gratis, of course).  This may explain, in part, why few local papers taste very many exceptional wines.  
There's subtle pressure, in these instances, to write favorable reviews.  Otherwise, wineries will stop sending free wine.  Wineries which make exceptional wines seem to find a market and often don't need to court this sort of publicity.

I recall some writers, criticized for writing ONLY favorable reviews, said they ONLY write about wines they like.  

Since most are in this camp, it was surprising to see some very critical and frank comments in a column by Baltimore Sun wine critic, Michael Dresser.  

In a column appearing on September 5th, 2001, Dresser gives some producers of California Chardonnays are rather strong "dressing down."

Writing that the state of California Chardonnay is "depressing," Mr Dresser writes:

"Most of the wines I tasted were not obviously flawed. But relatively few displayed individuality, verve and excitement. A significant number were poorly made wines fit only for making sangria."

Ouch!

His candor is somewhat shocking!  It's one thing to see a winery criticized in a wine journal or magazine that accepts no advertising.  Dresser is refreshingly opinionated as he writes:

"How on earth could the folks at Flora Springs have let their harsh 1999 Napa Valley chardonnay out of the winery to sell for $24? What were the folks at La Crema thinking when they inflicted their brutish $30 1998 Russian River chardonnay on the world? Why would a winery like Shafer, which makes such wonderful Napa Valley red wines, release a 1999 chardonnay from Red Shoulder Ranch with a preposterous 14.9 percent alcohol and the grace of a dancing bear?"

I have wondered this about a number of Flora Springs wines over the years.  The new Shafer release was especially hot tasting when we sampled it a month ago.  

In any case, this sort of frank review is rare.  How refreshing.


KIWIS UPSET WITH FRENCH "KIWI CUVEE" SAUVIGNON
The New Zealand Herald on-line edition reports some New Zealand wine growers have their panties in a knot over the discovery of a "Kiwi Cuve" of French- grown Sauvignon Blanc.

Marlborough Grape Grower's Association president Stuart Smith claims the French are misleading consumers with this wine (sold in Great Britain and, perhaps, in France). 
 
The French have been quick to try to stop others from producing wines labeled "Champagne," "Burgundy" or "Chablis," so the New Zealanders can't understand how in the world a French producer could possibly attempt to "steal their thunder."  

Well...here's why:  A French winery called Lacheteau makes this as a collaborative endeavor with New Zealand winemaker Rhyan Wardman and they've decided, for the second consecutive vintage, to call it their "Kiwi Cuve."   And the label, below the Sauvignon Blanc name, clearly states the wine as a "Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France."  This comes from lesser areas of the Loire Valley.
  
The wine is retailing for less than $6.    

 

WINES FROM HUMBLE ORIGINS
We're always interested to discover wines of good quality from places that might not be especially well-known for international caliber bottlings.
I was delighted, some years ago, to hear the owner of Chateau Pichon-Lalande, May Eliane de Lencquesaing, speak enthusiastically about the possibilities of good wine from unheralded sources, not just her blessed homeland of France.

Not every wine drinker is so unprejudiced.

A British ad agency has come under fire from the Church of England for its ad promoting the products of the Boyar Estate, a new Bulgarian producer.  Attempting to market the Blueridge wines, the agency came up with this:


The British "Advertising Standards Authority" has deemed the ads are acceptable and "not offensive."  
No word, as of yet,  from the Ministry of Silly Walks.

 

BARBARESCO CUISINE
The Wine Spectator selected a 1997 Barbaresco as its "Wine of the Day" on July 6th.  
Here is their description of the wine:
"From the very ripe and outstanding 97 vintage, comes this big and chewy Barbaresco, meaty and succulent. Aromatic of cherry, cedar, meat and berry, the wine is full-bodied, with lots of fruit and tannins. Long, sweet fruit finish. Traditional, yet beautiful. Best after 2003. 650 cases made."
Three different plates are suggested as appropriate accompaniments to this wine.
1.  Beef & Turnip Soup
2.  Cashew Chicken with Bok Choy
3.  Shrimp-Filled Mushrooms.

We've been amused that the Spectator couldn't find any Spanish wines to accompany their Paella some years ago.  Now it seems they can't find Piemontese cuisine to go with the Barbaresco!
What do you think?


WOW!  THEY ARE DICTATORS!
There's an editorial written by James Laube, one of the head honchos at The Wine Spectator, called "A Question of Style at Mondavi."  
I might point out I'm not a huge fan of Mondavi's wines but I have tasted some very fine wines from their portfolio.  

Laube writes: "At a time when California's best winemakers are aiming for riper, richer, more expressive wines, Mondavi appears headed in the opposite direction. The most recent vintages of its Napa Valley and Carneros wines are leaner, less ripe, seemingly higher in acidity and, on the whole, not terribly inspiring."
Okay...so Mondavi should start making the 14+% alcohol white wines so common in Napa?  Their red wines should be dominated by oak?  

Laube writes: "There's no question that winemaker Tim Mondavi has a vision and credentials. He has overseen winemaking since the late 1970s and enjoyed his share of successes. Tim and I have different taste preferences, and have discussed our likes and dislikes on many occasions. He has never concealed his distaste for big, ultrarich plush or tannic red wines. I know he can make rich, compelling wines, yet he prefers structured wines with elegance and finesse -- both admirable traits..."
So if Tim Mondavi wants to make wines that are not "ultra-rich" or "plush," he's not producing good wines?

Laube writes: "Since getting involved with Mondavi's Tuscan wine projects, Tim's stated fascination has been with creating what he calls bright, cleansing wines. This is bothersome because too many of the efforts are just that -- tart and angular, with little depth or dimension."
I guess the world needs more high alcohol, big, fat, flabby wines which will die a few years after the vintage.  

Laube concludes: "Mondavi can turn things around in a vintage if it wants to, simply by changing its mindset. Right now, that seems unlikely. I'm hoping that this is only a phase, and that once it's passed, better wines will come."

Here's my missive to Mr. Laube and The Dictator:
Dear Mr. Laube,

I am amused by your editorial criticizing the Mondavi wines.  I am not a huge fan of these wines, but you seem to be saying the way to make superior wines is to craft them to the tastes of those who think they can accurately attach a numerical score to a glass or bottle of wine.

As you are aware, wines today have become bigger, more alcoholic, more heavily oaked, sometimes slightly sweet (even in high profile Napa Cabernets!!!) in an effort by winemakers to attract the attention of/and praise from periodicals such as yours. 

I'll bet you that wines from the late 1940s and 1950s from Louis Martini would not receive high scores using your "scale", yet I have tasted wonderful examples of delicious wines from that era and that producer. 

Perhaps it might be a good idea to realize that only a small amount of wine is consumed by those "judging" it for a numerical score.  Most wine drinkers are looking for an enjoyable meal-time beverage, not a 90+ point example which may be stellar in a wine tasting and overwhelming with dinner.  ((In this regard, how come a stellar example of a dry rose, a French Beaujolais or a less-than-impressively sweet Riesling never get scores in the 92-100 point range?))

Nevertheless, I can say I've had some lovely Mondavi wines and many more which I felt come up short compared to other wines.  Are they failing in their winemaking?  Or am I out of step? 

I don't know. 

Nobody forces me to buy their wines.  Perhaps the consumer should decide. 

Should Mondavi (and other wineries) make wines for those who've set themselves up as arbiters of taste or should they make products which appeal to those who actually pay for them?

Thanks for your time.
Best wishes,

GERALD WEISL

By the way, The Wine Spectator has determined these scores for recent Mondavi releases.  I believe the wines are rated on a scale of 100 points.


Mondavi 1996 Reserve Cabernet 95 points
Mondavi 1997 "Oakville" Cabernet 94 points
Mondavi 1997 Reserve Cabernet 93 points
Mondavi 1997 Stags Leap Cabernet 92 points
Mondavi 1997 Reserve Chardonnay 91 points
Mondavi 1997 Carneros Merlot 90 points
Mondavi 1997 Napa Cabernet 89 points
Mondavi 1998 Carneros Pinot Noir
"Rich and complex, especially for a '98"
89 points
Mondavi 1997 Napa Chardonnay 87 points
Mondavi 1997 Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc
"High-toned grapefruit flavors and zingy acidity mark this refreshing wine..."
87 points

Laube writes: "Call it a matter of preference of style, but the current Mondavi wines leave me wondering if the winery is just in a temporary slump...or if it is seriously off-track."

I guess those scores are "off track."

Bob Gorman, when apprised of the Laube editorial remarked, "I guess Mondavi doesn't spend enough advertising dollars with The Wine Spectator to get the scores Laube thinks the wines should be receiving."

POST-SCRIPT:  On August 6th we received a letter from Tim Mondavi and a copy of his letter to The Wine Spectator.  You can read them both by clicking here.

 

YOU SAY "SILVANER," I SAY "SYLVANER."
This is not a new story, but happened a number of years ago.  
The Rheinpfalz winemaker Rainer-Karl Lingenfelder decided to produce a wine which would be contrary to the customary and popular wines made from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  
He decided to make an oak-laden white wine and this was made from the Silvaner grape.  Using wood to "flavor" this rather mild white was certainly an act of rebellion.
Lingenfelder already had a proprietary wine called "Zeitgeist R" which was made of Riesling.  His "Zeitgeist S" was produced from the Scheurebe variety.  What to call this Silvaner???
He chose the name "Zeitgeist Y: Sylvaner."

Bad move.
The local wine police, snooping around the cellars, caught a glimpse of the label for this rebellious scallywag of a wine.
But it seems that the spelling police do not allow the name "Sylvaner."  
It seems the Nazi wine police in the 1940s decreed that spelling the wine "Sylvaner" was, somehow, "un-German" and this would not be permitted.

So, Lingenfelder (or "Lyngenfelder," if you prefer) chose to label the wine as simply "Ypsilon," the name of the letter "Y" and the label depicts the rest of "Sylvaner" as blotted out in red ink.

Lingenfelder is, not surprisingly, a fan of California's shyt-dysturber, Randall Grahm (and vice-versa).  

 

UNDERGROUND WINE JOURNAL-ISM
I picked up a copy of the April 2001 "The Underground Wine Journal."  They write about wines and offer critiques of various wines.  This issue has an article about "Sauvignon Sensational!" highlighting the Sauvignon Blanc wines now being produced in South Africa. 
The article features Neil Ellis, Groote Post, Darling Cellars, Bartho Eksteen, Cape Point Vineyards and Vergelegen (saying "You can't talk about South Africa's Sauvignon Blanc without mentioning Andr van Rensburg, winemaker at the outstanding Vergelegen estate.").

Following the prose are ratings of various South African Sauvignons.  
Did they rate Neil Ellis Sauvignon?
No.
How about Groote Post?
Nope.
Darling Cellars?
Sorry, darling.
Bartho Eksteen?
Huh?
Cape Point?
No.
Vergelegen?
No thanks, not today.

The magazine notes "Our goal is to make our readers aware of the best wines available in the current market." 

As long as I'm blasting this publication....they write about wines offered on various airlines.  
Imagine Gallo's "William Wycliff Brut" sparkling wine is a mere 2 points (on their 100 point scale) behind Charles Heidsieck's "82 point" 1996 Mis-en-Cave Reserve Champagne!    Krug's Grand Cuve managed an 84-point rating, so it's not as "good" as Firestone's 85-point 1997 Santa Ynez Valley Merlot!

 

CELLAR BLIND?  or not?
Winemakers and winery owners are often victims of a syndrome known as "cellar blind."  This means, since they tend to imbibe far more of their own products than other's, they tend to prefer their own wines to those of other producers.
Sometimes wines with minor flaws (or major) become elements they expect to find in particular wines.  When conducting blind-tastings, for example, they often find their own wines to be more to their taste than those from other sources.  This is known as "cellar blindness."  

Virtually all winemakers and winery proprietors cannot possibly understand how people can drink the swill produced by neighboring wineries.  Even more difficult to comprehend for these souls is why their precious ambrosia doesn't fly out the portals of their distributors.

One firm, to demonstrate the clear superiority of their wines over competing brands, brought a bunch of bottles from various wineries to evaluate in a "blind-tasting" at the offices of their supposedly slacker distributor.  The thinking (if you can call it that) was to show the sales staff the error of their ways in not more ambitiously selling this domain's fine wares.  
The bottles were brown-bagged and the wines tasted in a long flight of more than a dozen entries.  

You can imagine the
color on the face of the proprietor of the winery when he ranked his own wine LAST and his dreaded neighbor's product was his FAVORITE!  The source of this tale says the fellow was speechless and "apoplectic" in demeanor.  I'm wagering he was close to the color of a 10 day old late-harvest Zinfandel.  Talk about being "up a creek without a paddle!"

That'll teach him to organize a blind-tasting in public.

 

CAN THE END OF CIVILIZATION BE FAR BEHIND?
Here's a product I never thought I'd hear a request for: "Wine Grape Flavored Vodkas." 
These are coming from Italia.  
Called "Due," there are actually three Vodkas in this portfolio, one a "genuine" Vodka, the other two being "genu-wine."  If this is what Merlot and Chardonnay really taste like, we're in deep trouble.

 

I'M NOT AN EXPERT, BUT I KNOWS WHATS I LIKES
A fellow who works for a soft drink distributor was making a sales call and wanted to ask me about a particular winery.  He explained, "I'm not a wine expert.  I can't tell a five dollar bottle from a hundred dollar bottle."

"The sad thing is," I replied, "sometimes, neither can I!"

 

RIESLING
A gentleman stopped in the shop after seeing we were pouring Chateau de Fargues 1989 Sauternes.  He tied up his pooch at the hitching post in front of the shop and came in to taste a couple of wines.  We spoke about various wines and he confessed that his wife doesn't drink much wine, but when she does she likes something really sweet.  
I poured him a sip of a light, Washington State Riesling and then he told me that he and the Mrs. needed a polite code word for the dog to relieve himself.
If you ever hear someone ordering their canine to start "Riesling," you'll have met this couple!

By the way, I am reminded of the time someone was asked "Do you like Riesling?" and the other individual responded with "I don't know.  I've never Riesl-ed."
In any case, this illustrated just how low this noble grape variety has sunk in the eyes of some consumers!

 

CHATEAU WHO?
If you have a subscription to the publication called "Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine," have a look at the cover of the March 2001 issue.
There's a photo of the winery which makes, amongst other offerings, a Cabernet-based red called "Cinq Cepages." 
They're listed as "Chateau St. John." 
Oops! Isn't that "Chateau St. Jean"?

 

That's Hospitality!
Back in the "old days," wineries were delighted someone had the interest to pay them a visit and see, learn, taste and be brainwashed about what was being made.
Now many wineries ask visitors to pay a fee to taste their wines. 
In many cases, wineries should pay visitors to taste those wines (especially when bottles have been opened for several days and nobody has checked to see if the wine is still in good condition).

The manager for a local Bay Area distributor recently called one of the wineries his company represents to see about having a small gathering of sales people, so they might learn more about the winery and taste the current releases.  They'd coincidentally conduct a brief sales meeting that week-day morning.

The winery said they would be delighted to host this gathering, "...but you'll have to pay us several hundreds of dollars for the privilege."   The fellow was also told that if the crew left the premises for something like lunch, returning afterwards, they'd be charged a second fee! 

Wow!   Very nice. 

Times sure have changed! 

I might point out that one Napa winery offers all sorts of opportunities for them to "wine friends and influence people."  The Robert Mondavi Winery has a brochure of activities for visitors:
1.  Vineyard & Winery Tour...$10 per person.
2.  The To Kalon Vineyard Tour (please wear shoes appropriate for walking in the vineyards).  $10 per person.
3.  A Guided Tasting ( a 30 minute experience...perfect for the novice who would like to review the basics ). $10 per person
4.  The Essence Tour & Tasting (a three hour adventure exploring the sensory evaluation of wine...unveils the mysteries...) $25 per person.
5.  The Winegrowing Tour and tasting (three to four hours) $25 per person.
6.  Picnic in the Vineyards (Mondays at 10 am, May through October)  (This four hour tour and tasting focuses on all aspects of winegrowing with a special emphasis on the importance of the vineyards...)
==I'll say!== $48 per person, all inclusive.
7.  The Art of Wine and Food (...one hour educational tour of the winery and surrounding vineyards...a three course luncheon...) $65 per person, all inclusive.

 

And I Thought Wine Was Mysterious!

Bread.jpg (10046 bytes)
I bought some bread at a local grocery emporium and, by chance, read the bag.  Now, wine labels often have curious verbiage, but this takes the cake (so to speak).

"Store your unsliced loaf in a dry place by itself..."
I guess that means everything in the kitchen cabinet has to come out...that bread needs solitude!

"Rest the cut part of the Bread on a wooden board and wrap it in cloth.  Sprinkle a few drops of water before going to bed."
Bob wanted to know if you need to say some "Hail Marys" with this.  I want to know where you're supposed to sprinkle this water.  What if you're having the bread at lunch time...do you need to take a nap immediately following?  

"Wrap your toasted Bread in a napkin for 2 minutes, it will be moist and delicious."
Bob commented that he doesn't like wet toast.

 

 

 

wpe34.jpg (18421 bytes)HOW TO DRINK CHAMPAGNE

This ad is published in the catalogue of the Piper Heidsieck Champagne distributor here in the Bay Area.
I can only imagine they're suggesting you drink their Champagne directly out of the bottle using a straw. 
This certainly saves time and the hassle of cleaning the expensive and delicate crystal stemware.
Talk about taking the mystery out of wine drinking!

I wonder if they'll start packaging Piper Heidsieck in cans?  Or "sports bottles"?

 

GREETINGS FROM A NAPA VINTNER
Given today's seller's market, we receive, from time to time, the cold shoulder from some California wineries.
We know the card we received in January's mailbag was meant as a gesture of goodwill, since this particular winery has always been very polite and has gone so far as to even send a note of thanks for our carrying their expensive bottles of wine. 
That being said, let's just call this a sort of vinous "Rorschach Test," shall we? 
So...how would you interpret this?

wpe2D.jpg (9205 bytes)

The card contained this lovely quotation from Edward Galeano:
"We are all mortal until the first kiss
and the second glass of wine."

POST-SCRIPT:  The source of the card phoned to say the message they were sending was one of good-will (which I understand).  The photo is "art work" which is, of course, subject to interpretation.  The sender was, apparently, quite shocked anyone would have any sort of negative reaction to this.
My point is/was art, like wine, is subject to interpretation! art, like wine, is subject to interpretation!
My "95 point" wine might register a mere "75" on your "Taste-O-Meter."
And so I am amused, not offended, by the subject depicted on this little card.

 

WELL MORE THAN SIX GRAPES

We receive enough promotional correspondence to keep the recycling bin rather full.  Recently arriving in our mailbox was "Graham's Dinner Party Guide, The Essential Hosting Primer." 

Chock full of black and white photos of the  participants for a Bacchanalia,   this guide, if followed, requires readers to "load up" on Graham's Six Grapes Port.  I wonder if they offer Jeroboam-sized (3 liter) bottles of Six Grapes!   The "Guest List" includes "The City Guy," "The Good Gal," "The Businessman," The Next Door Neighbor," "The Looker," "The Exotic," "The Charmer" and "The Neighbor's Wife."

Here's a list of the uses for their product in this tome:

1.  "Dinner is at eight and you're not quite ready.  That's ok...your guests will probably be fashionably late.  Have a few sips of Graham's Six Grapes, and relax as you complete your final preparations."

2.  The first course is "Graham's Salad Tropicale," a salad of greens, tomatoes, hearts of palm, a can of Mandarin oranges, avocados and parsley.   The salad dressing includes oil, Balsamic vinegar, warm water, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and, of course Graham's Six Grapes!

3.  For the starters, while the guests are congregating, the guide suggests serving cheeses (English Stilton, Bleu D'Auvergne, amongst others) and crackers and Graham's Six Grapes!

4.  The main plate is Chicken, marinated in orange juice, olive oil, salt, red pepper, rosemary and Graham's Six Grapes!
A sauce for the grilled chicken includes water, lemon juice, butter, whipping cream, shallots, cornstarch and Graham's Six Grapes.

5.  Page ten describes setting the table.  Surprisingly there's white wine in the wine glasses, though there is a bottle of Graham's Six Grapes on the table.

6.  Dessert is next and since "You have a hectic schedule, and the toil of baking is often not an option...Purchase a sinfully delicious devil's food cake from a local bakery...Chocolate and Graham's Six Grapes go hand-in-hand..."

7.  The final photos show a recycling bin filled with, amongst others, several empty bottles of Graham's Six Grapes.

I'm surprised they don't find other uses, such as sanitizing the silverware with their product. 

 

AND WHO'S BURIED IN GRANT'S TOMB?
Restaurateurs often ask wine sales-folk to help "educate" their wait-staff, so that the staff might be able to know something about the wines which grace their wine lists.  Some restaurateurs have staffers who are actually interested in wine and food.  Some not.

This was made more clear when the training session turned to "quiz time" and the wine sales person asked questions of the staff which diners might pose to the servers.

"Where's the Sonoma-Cutrer winery?" they asked.
One bright bulb piped up with an answer.
"Napa!?"

 

A SMALL RIDDLE:
How do you tell who's a winemaker in a room-full of people?

Answer:  You won't have to.  The winemaker will tell you!

This courtesy of some Australian wine industry people. 

 

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
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The San Francisco Chronicle's  November 1, 2000 "Food" Section has this little tidbit, written by Robin Davis:

Michele Anna Jordan will be the first to tell you that Sonoma County is ``chaotic and geographically cumbersome'' when compared to its lofty Northwest wine cousin, Napa County. But she's just as quick to tell you that it's a region of ``tremendous diversity.''

My map may be broken, but I have long considered the "Northwest" to be places such as Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. 
Further, on my map, I don't see Napa as 'north' of Sonoma County, nor am I finding it 'west.'  This may account for why Napa County residents have difficulty with delivery of the San Francisco newspaper.  
Then again, it may not.

WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR & WINEMAKERS TO WATCH
The Chronicle also selected a "Winemaker of the Year."   Additionally, there are four "Winemakers to Watch."
There is also a list of TOP TEN WINES OF THE YEAR.  
TOP TEN WINES OF THE YEAR!
Curiously, the WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR and the four runners-up do not have a single wine on the Top Ten List!
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.....HELLOOOOOOoooooo!

 

FRENCH  BUREAUCRACY

Rain is detrimental to grape quality.  Especially when it occurs close to harvest time or, worse, during the picking of the grapes.

A few properties in France had a marvelous idea to protect the quality of their wine.  They covered, as an experiment, a part of their vineyard with plastic sheeting to not permit the rain to soak into the ground, bloat the grapes and dilute the quality of the fruit. 

Apparently they did this in 1999 and not a word was said, although eyebrows of some neighbors were raised.

In 2000, on August 22nd, to be precise, these three properties, Chateau Fontenil, Chateau de Carles and Chateau Valandraud (in the areas of Fronsac and St. Emilion) rolled out the plastic "carpets." 

Three days later, before any grapes were harvested, before any wine was fermented, before the wine hit an oak barrel, the French authorities who grant "appellation contrle" status contacted these three renegades and informed them their wines for the 2000 vintage would be disqualified for "appellation contrle" designation.  The wines, this bureaucracy (called INAO, L'Institut National des Appellations d'Origine) told these winemakers their wines would have to be labeled as "vin de table," the lowest quality designation in France.

I sent the following letter to INAO:

INAO
Jean-Daniel BENARD
Sophie VILLERS
Jacques FANET
Grard MAGNIN
Jrme QUIOT
Jacques GAUTTIER


11 October 2000


Dear INAO,

Please accept my apologies for not being capable of writing to you in French. I wish I had learned your language when I was growing up.....sorry.

I read with great interest the news of your forcing three chateaux in Bordeaux to de-classify their wines, Chateaux Valandraud, Fontenil and de Carles.

If somebody has an independent thought on a method to IMPROVE the QUALITY of their WINE, INAO ought to not be so fast as to determine the wines are not "typical". I am amused to read that three days after these estates have attempted to PROTECT THE QUALITY OF THE GRAPES in their respective vineyards, a month or so before the harvest, your organization has forced these people to "declassify" their wines to "vin de table" status.

I would think you might consider reviewing the wines once these have been vinified and have had a chance to show whether or not these are GOOD WINES and TYPICAL WINES and HONESTLY-MADE WINES.

These people did NOT blend their wine with Spanish wine. They did NOT transfer 5th growth Bordeaux to the 1er Cru chateau in Bordeaux in the dark of night. They did not blend their Gevrey-Chambertin with Syrah from the Rhone. They did not make any attempt at DISHONEST wine production. The goal was SUPERIOR WINE.

You should consider encouraging winemakers in France to MAKE BETTER WINE. If their wine is superior, perhaps there will be more popularity for French wines. The idea of attempting to divert rain water, known to be DETRIMENTAL to the QUALITY OF WINE (look at any vintage chart!), away from the vines seems a simple notion.

Your decree appears to wine-industry members (both inside of France and outside France) that INAO does not wish French producers to be able to MAKE BETTER WINE.

I hope you will consider this situation and wait until you taste the wines made by these estates before judging the quality and authenticity of their wines. We, as outsiders and consumers, taste many wines with famous appellations and the "Appellations d'Origine Contrle" on the label and POOR, LOW QUALITY WINE IN THE BOTTLE!

Thank you for your time and attention.
Sincerely,


GERALD WEISL
Wine Merchant

I sent a copy of my letter to Michael Rolland, one of the world's leading winemakers and proprietor of Chateau Fontenil. 

I received back this:

Dear Sir,

I appreciate very much your help.
I would like to thank you and I believe you understand everything about I.N.A.O.
Anyway, we have only one goal, with or without Appellation, to make very good wines.
All the best
M. ROLLAND


No response has yet been received from the silly folks at I.N.A.O.

Jean Luc Thunevin of Chteau Valandraud is labeling the "declassified" wines as "L'Interdit de Val."  The wine has been made according to Thunevin and Michel Rolland's highest standards, so this will certainly confuse many: seeing the words "Vin de Table" on a mighty costly bottle of wine!

 

POINTS NONSENSE
While I appreciate the simplicity of rating wine on a 100-point scale, I keep thinking this is such a mindless way to buy (or sell wine) because it can be so misleading!
What spurs this note is my having been offered the opportunity of a lifetime!    I was tasting a wine made from low-yielding vineyards which had been vinified somewhat along the lines of a Beaujolais: whole-berry fermentation (though the wine was not exuberantly fruity) and was not subjected to oak aging.  I found the wine to be, to my taste, a rather ordinary bottle of red.  I was horrified when the importer told me the consumer price:  $43 (a bottle, not for the case!)!!!
I found this to be grossly unjust. 
The importer, however, pointed out that because the wine is so special, so limited and so highly-praised by Robert Parker in his "The Wine Advocate," there are plenty of people who jump at the chance to be able to purchase such an incredible wine. 

Well, we still have respect for a ten-dollar bill, so you won't be finding this nonsense in our little shop. 

I was curious, though, and looked up Mr. Parker's review of the previous vintage:
The winemaker is described as a "genius" and the wine is a "fruit bomb."  Its description is a caricature of The Wine Advocate's reviews:   "...such levels of concentration...it transcends that category...celestial perfume...a total hedonistic turn-on...."  I didn't find what Mr. Parker often terms "gobs of fruit."  The 1999 vintage (I was tasting the 2000) received a score of 94 out of 100. 
The night before we tasted some 1997 Bordeaux.  Some of these were very good wines.  
I can tell you this:  anyone who tastes the 1997 Pichon Baron (85-87 according to Mr. Parker) or 1997 Lafite Rothschild (90-92 points according to Mr. P) and awards a higher numerical score to this 2000 Torbreck "Juveniles" wine should turn in their tastevin immediately!
Mr. Parker is correct on one score:  The winemaker must be a "genius" (if he can separate people from forty-dollars in exchange for a bottle of this)!

 

WINE WRITER'S CONFESSION
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Decanter Magazine, a wonderful British publication (chock full of articles about wine, unlike a certain major American periodical), features a monthly column by one of our favorite wine writers, Michael Broadbent.  Typically his columns deal with what interesting, unusual or exceedingly rare wine Mr. and Mrs. Broadbent have been drinking lately.   In his "Tasting Note No. 278," Broadbent makes a most revealing confession:
"In the early days of our marriage, every summer holiday was spent in a different wine district, and it was our (my) laudable ambition to make love - necessarily furtively, and at night - in a famous vineyard.  I well recall one such occasion. 'Twas the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard, conveniently opposite the small hotel at which we were staying.  It was in 1956; in June, which happened to be unusually cold and wet, so a bit muddy.  The experience somewhat dampened my ardour." 

 

KORBEL SUES Consumer Reports
Gets a "Good" Rating

While Korbel was given a "good" rating, 19 other sparkling wines were tabbed as even better, including Gallo's "Andre" and "Tott's" brands. 

The lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claims Consumer Reports story has caused sales to plummet.  Korbel contends its sales dropped approximately 50% from the same period last year.

Let's see: 1999.   Millennium fever.  You don't suppose sales were unusually high last year, do you?   Nah.....can't be!

Korbel's proprietor, Gary Heck, is also steamed because Consumer Reports' November 1999 article does not identify the so-called experts who rated the various sparkling wines.  The magazine routinely signs wine judges to a confidentiality agreement.

The magazine, however, was profiled on a CBS' 60 Minutes program showing its testing methods and "judges" for a motor vehicle review.  When Mr. Heck requested the names of the sparkling wine reviewers, Consumer Reports refused to divulge the information.

We've, frankly, never been thrilled with wine reviews in Consumer Reports.

 

SAVE THE "NAPA" APPELLATION
We have received several requests for us to bombard various California State legislators with correspondence asking them to protect the sanctity of the Napa appellation. 
These requests are from various Napa Valley vintners who seek to, rightfully, protect the "Napa Valley" reputation.
The Bronco Wine Company seeks to take advantage of the various wine labels it owns, having purchased the rights to use these names.   Bronco uses Napa Creek and Rutherford Vintners labels, for example, for wines which come from other parts of California, not Napa and not Rutherford.  The firm recently purchased the Napa Ridge label from Beringer. 
See below for that story.....

In any case, the Napa Valley Vintners Association has pressed the California State Senate and Assembly to pass Senate Bill #1293.  This will protect consumers.  

It would require that any wine with a brand name with a Napa affiliation must also have a Napa Valley appellation. 

This may be a good idea.

However,  the proposal protects consumers only for Napa designations!   There is no provision to protect mis-labeled Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Barbara or Amador County designations!!!  Just Napa! only for Napa designations!   There is no provision to protect mis-labeled Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Barbara or Amador County designations!!!  Just Napa!

So I guess it would be okay, then, for Sonoma-Cutrer, for example, to offer a California-appellation Chardonnay made of Fresno-grown fruit.  It would be okay for Amador Foothill Winery to offer Kern County Zinfandel under a California appellation? 

So, while we appreciate the concerns of those in the Napa Valley, we feel that the State Legislature should enact a bill to cover the whole State of California, not just a special little part of it.  
UPDATE:
California's legislature did pass this bill, covering ONLY the sanctity of the Napa appellation!  Consumers are on their own for any other region listed as a brand name!  Governor Gray Davis signed the bill, which takes effect in January of 2001.  

 

A Small Riddle.
Q:  What's the difference between a Winemaker and God?
Q:  What's the difference between a Winemaker and God?
A:  God doesn't think he's (she's) a winemaker.
Thanks to Chuck Pascale, famous wine guy from Syracuse, New Yawk for that.

 

25th Anniversary!santana_temp.gif (11807 bytes)
I purchased a bottle of Bodegas Victorianas "Santana" Tempranillo in hopes of finding a good, modestly-priced red to recommend in the shop.  Instead, I found this perplexing text on the label (probably too small to read, so let me quote it for you):

FOUNDED IN 1861
"Since
1861 our family has been creating wines of superior character and exceptional quality.   In celebration of our 25th Anniversary of producing wines originating from the Mediterranean, Santana is proud to offer this special selection." is proud to offer this special selection."

It's a 1997 vintage Tempranillo---brought to market in 1999 or 2000.  25th Anniversary.  Founded in 1861.
Knock, knock, knock....hellloooooooo!!!! 
Well...bottom line is their winemaking is about as good as their math skills.



BAROLO WITH FISH?
I was reminded of this story the other day when showing someone some books of photos of some exploits in Europe.
I was invited to a dinner and wine-pairing session with a group of Piemontese winemakers who were taking a class from a "sommelier."  This guy's claim to fame, I was told as we were introduced, was that he was "the first to suggest pairing Barolo (heavy-in-tannin, earthy, bruising red wine) with fish."  
Signor Sommelier paired various wines with various courses.  Some of the winemakers wanted to drink some other wines, so they ordered some selections from the restaurant's wine list. 
Tasting one of these, I remarked that the wine reminded me of the eucalyptus and mint notes of Heitz' Martha's Vineyard Cabernet from Napa.  Signor Sommelier made some comment about "Those Americans have such fantasies in describing what wines taste like."  (He didn't know I spoke Italian, since I was conversing with some of the winemakers in English.)
A few minutes later, this same fellow was describing another wine which had been ordered by the congregation.
"It has a fragrance reminiscent of un orsetto con capelli bianchi." he remarked.  (like a bear with white hair!)

Oh!   And the way you can serve Barolo with fish:  Don't eat the fish.   Just drink the Barolo.   At least, that's what Signor Sommelier did !


How's That Again?
In a published story on their web site, there's an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer headlined:
seattle-PI.gif (5123 bytes)
Ste. Michelle restores Reisling's good name

Wednesday, July 5, 2000

By RICHARD KINSSIES
SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Too bad they spelled "Riesling" incorrectly!
Mr. Kinssies, by the way, writes one of the more intelligent wine columns in this part of the planet.  I suppose the headline writer doesn't know Riesling from Cabernet.

!

Nice To Compare Your Wine to French, But....
While participating as a judge at the San Francisco international Wine Competition, I ran across a very fine bottle from the Storrs Winery in Santa Cruz.  It was so good, in fact, it wound up as a co-winner of the "Best Red of Show" category.  We were fortunate enough to be able to buy some bottles of this and were amused upon reading the back label:
"This classic red wine is comprised of the five red Bordeaux varietals-Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec & Petit Verdot.  This tiny vineyard located south of the San Francisco Bay and due east of the breezy Monterey Bay sits upon a sunny foothill of the Santa Clara Valley.  Like its "Entre-Deux-Mers" counterparts, this wine yields profound notes of cassis, black cherry, vanilla and violets."
The Entre-Deux-Mers appellation is not found on red wines!
It covers only white wines, with Sauvignon Blanc, Smillon and Muscadelle being the accepted varieties!
Reds made here are offered as Bordeaux Rouge or Bordeaux  Suprieur.
The wine is so good, they'd have been more correct comparing it to a fine Medoc, for example.
C'est la vie!



ARROGANT BASTARDS

snooty_man.gif (4063 bytes)Many vintners today have the idea that "you are lucky to be able to pay us $50 or $100 for our precious nectar....we don't sell this rare beverage to just anyone!"
Yes....it is a seller's market today.  To give you some insight:
A prominent winery owner ventures into a famed San Francisco restaurant (whose owner has authored several cookbooks and whose sommelier is much-respected in the wine world) and, after dining there, calls his distributor to say he does not want his wines in this critically-acclaimed restaurant because he "...didn't like the way they cooked their vegetables."
The distributor told me, as well, the same fellow wanted to cut off sales to a famed Southern California restaurant because he didn't like the croutons on his salad.

"They Made 40,000 Cases, so It Must be Good"
danzante.gif (5267 bytes)A fellow who teaches at the college level in San Francisco and who has a column on an internet web site recommends a wine called Danzante Pinot Grigio as his "WOD" (wine of the day).  Fred McMillan's article notes this is the first white wine of the collaboration between Napa's Mondavi and Tuscany's Frescobaldi families.  He notes the production of this modest wine is 40,000 cases, which he explains "...tells you they KNOW the public will like it."  We tasted the 98 Danzante Pinot Grigio and can't say we're impressed.  We thought it was a three-buck wine which costs consumers closer to $10.
The name "Danzante" refers to dancing, and in our view it's gonna take a lot of singing and dancing to sell this!   That's how we see it, anyway.

"Raising the Bar on Wine Scores"
Norm Roby, writing in The Wine News (Feb/Mar 2000), suggests wine writers change their scores after a blind-tasting, claiming it is a "wine writer's duty."
Click here for more.   WHAT?!?!?!

WINE PROFESSIONALS ?
pourwine.gif (5665 bytes)Having just returned from a trade tasting, let me say this to those so-called "professionals" hosting or attending (or both) such an event:
If you cannot participate in such an event without having to smoke a cigarette, please stay home.
One nitwit was standing just outside the tasting venue, wine glass in one hand, cigarette in another.  The smoke from his Marlboro was wafting into the tasting area since the window was opened.   It never occurred to this fellow that there were hundreds of dollars' worth of wines on display, all now smelling like tar and nicotine, instead of Shiraz, Barbera d'Alba and Cabernet.
Addendum:  I  attended a trade tasting where the hosts, intending to show the "perfect" pairing of their wines with food, set up a table in the backyard adjacent to a barbecue in which they had a smoldering, smoking piece of mesquite to help "show off" their Southwest French wines.  And I thought a cigarette was bad!


WINE LIST PLACEMENTS
I have big ears.
What this has to do with what wines are being offered on various restaurant wine lists is this:  I'm standing in front of a table at a trade tasting the other day.   Alongside of me is a fellow who owns a San Francisco restaurant.  The young man behind the table, seeking to impress the restaurateur and have him buy more wines from this large distributor, says, "We want to come in to your restaurant and buy A LOT OF FOOD.  You know, we come in there and you charge us for a bunch of food...know what I mean?"
Now, in case you need translation: 
A prominent distributor is notorious for asking its suppliers to give "free goods" to some customers who have their hands out.  This is, as you might imagine, quite illegal.  Management at this firm, it seems, have "expense accounts" which are often used to swing deals. 
One sales rep told us of a restaurateur who explained that he didn't buy from a particular distributorship because "everything you have is too expensive."  Yet they manage to have more costly wines on their wine list from a certain other firm which, coincidentally, has management with expense accounts.
Another salesman tell us of a story he heard where some firm's rep goes into an account, orders a cocktail and leaves a $2000 tip.
This certainly would account for some of the funny wine-lists I see on those rare occasions when I am able to dine out.
How this impacts you, dear reader, is that some small fish in the wine "sea" can't compete when various restaurant wine buyers are hooked on hand-outs.
One way you might identify such a restaurant is to look for large format bottles which might be displayed around the dining room. (Not every restaurant with large format bottles is necessarily "on the take," but I'll bet you a glass of Chardonnay there isn't an invoice for those.)
Years ago wineries used to supply "dummy bottles" for display purposes.   Today it seems a number of producers actually put their precious and expensive nectars in 3-liter bottles so they can be "packaged" at a special price (along with 5 cases of 750ml bottles, perhaps) and displayed above the rotisserie or under a hot spotlight in the dining room. 

 

NAPA RIDGE LABEL SOLD !
The Beringer family of wineries (Beringer, Chateau Souverain,  Meridian, Chateau St. Jean, Stags' Leap) has sold its "Napa Ridge" label to.....the Franzia's at the Bronco Wine Company!
Some vintners are putting pressure on the industry to clean up some labeling practices. 
The Franzias are infamous for wines such as "Domaine Napa," "Rutherford Vintners" and "Napa Creek."  None of these labels offer wines of the Napa appellation.
Somehow it makes sense that this "Napa Ridge" label, which also features wines which do not come from a ridge nor Napa, should be purchased by the Franzia's.
Beringer and Chateau Souverain used the Napa Ridge label for excess wines which were sold at modest prices.  Some of the wines, most notably Pinot Noir, have actually been rather nice. 
Now Franzia and their Bronco Wine Company will have another label in their stable.
A few years ago the Justice Department prosecuted Fred Franzia for allegedly selling Zinfandel to a couple of wineries but actually delivering Carignane.  I remember reading that he allegedly spread some leaves from Zinfandel vines on top of the Carignane fruit in the gondola, just in case some sharp-eyed enologist questioned the fruit in the bins.  In a market which had the hots for White Zinfandel, the temptation was, apparently, too much.
The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Franzia and his Bronco Wine Company paid $3 million in fines "...for schemes that included what Franzia called 'blessing the load'--sprinkling Zinfandel leaves on non-Zinfandel grapes to capitalize on the high price of Zinfandel grapes."
In a State Senate hearing, Senator Wes Chesbro, who represents Napa and environs, asked Mr. Franzia if his using these Napa names wasn't also a form of "blessing the load."
The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Mr. Franzia:  " I'm a little disappointed in the accusation, senator," said Franzia, who muttered after Chesbro finished, 'cheap shot.' "
More recently Franzia is attempting to construct a bottling plant within the Napa region.   This will allow them to have, at the very least, a Napa address on their various bottlings.  This would lead consumers to believe "the wines come from Napa." 
These brands include:  Forest Glen Winery, Rutherford Vintners, Forest Ville Vineyards, Domaine Napa Winery, Napa Creek Cellars, Napa Creek Winery, Hacienda Cellars, Cedar Brook Winery, Foxhollow Vineyards, Grand Cru Vineyards, Silver Ridge Vineyards, Douglas Hill Winery, Charles Shaw Winery, Summers Winery, Crane Lake Winery, Laurier Vineyards, Domaine Laurier Winery, Estrella Winery, Antares Cellar,  Hacienda Cellars, CC Vineyard, JFJ Winery and Opici Imports.
Of course, these guys are not the only ones to prey upon the ignorant.  Charles Krug had changed its "CK Mondavi" label to "CK Mondavi Napa," even though the fruit doesn't come from Napa.  Sebastiani took out the rights to a label for "Domaine Chardonnay," intending to make a white wine which was not predominantly Chardonnay.  The point is, guard your wallet.



She's No Robert Parker!
That would be singer Tori Amos, "interviewed" in Wine X magazine.  Some snippets from her interview:
That would be singer Tori Amos, "interviewed" in Wine X magazine.  Some snippets from her interview:
"I hear the wine.  It's like a structure.  I see it as a piece.  I hear it before I taste it.  It's calling me.  And then I start to hear it when I'm tasting it.  Not that I put crystal suppositories up my ass...I'm not new age..."
Okay....um, thanks for sharing that....what else?
"One night he took me, my producer and his girlfriend out to dinner with four bottles in tow--a Champagne, a Chablis and two Bordeaux.  He said Burgundy's for sex, Bordeaux for intellect."
She might be right on this one:
"I think these guys and women who are making wine just cross their fingers sometimes."
On tasting a Heitz 1985 Martha's Vineyard with the interviewer:
"This one's like the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders--everybody wants them and they're a bit airbrushed and everything.  I would give it to the band."


Isn't This Like Taking Your Clothes off In Public?
The Wine Spectator ran a story on Paella.  They claim that Spanish wine DOESN'T GO WITH PAELLA!!!
<<Knock, knock, knock!!! HELLLLooooooooooo!>>
This is what they wrote:
"...Traditional Spanish white wines lack the body and the richness to stand up to all those flavors. Of the wines we sampled with this paella, however, no pattern emerged favoring either red or white-- although it definitely liked non-Spanish wines. A light Rioja Blanco faded into the background, but richer whites, including several styles of Chardonnay and even Viognier, struck a lovely balance. Among reds, youthful Rioja and Zinfandel lost their fruity charms, but a light Pinot Noir, of all things, kept its spicy flavors in balance...."
If you don't believe me, check out their web site at http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Spectator/Menus/1995/nov95 and look for their paella recipe!  Their suggestions for Paella were mostly Merlot wines, their favorite being Chateau Souverain.   I'm sure that's what they're drinking tonight in Spain!

 

1947 VINTAGE "Tasting Old" according to the Wine Spectator!
Yes!  Can you believe this?!?!    Upon doing a tasting of wines from the highly-regarded 1947 vintage (in 1997), the Wine Spectator reports "...many of the wines...simply tasted old."    No kidding!   Wow.  Imagine a 50 year old wine tasting "old."


Where are the Unfiltered Cabernets?
Anybody ever wonder why there are so many premium California Chardonnays with the word "Unfiltered" on them AND so few Cabernets with the same designation?  Doesn't that, as Arsenio Hall used to say, "make you wanna go, 'Hmmmmmm?'"
One reason: many wineries filter out a yeast called Brettanomyces.
Not filtering this out causes the wine to have a fragrance some describe as being reminiscent of a leathery/saddle/horsy character. 
Also (and this is shocking to many):  A number of prominent Cabernets are showing a hint of residual sugar.   We've tested a few:  Phelp's 97 Insignia registered about 7 grams/liter! 


WINE RENTAL
It seems some people are under the impression that we, like other purveyors of wine and spirits, are able to "rent" wine.
They'll make a party purchase and, after all is said and done, wish to return those bottles which are unconsumed.  I'm curious to know if the caterer is crediting them for the un-eaten potato salad, pat or racks of lamb!
The problem with taking back bottles is, of course, one can never be certain of how the returned bottles have been treated (or mistreated).  Has that bottle of Champagne been in the freezer?  Has the Cabernet been driving around in the trunk of a car in 100-degree heat?  What about product tampering?  These are risks we will not take...so for the protection of our customers, we do not exchange or buy back unused merchandise. 

Speaking of "Buying or Trading"
The state of California now allows private parties to sell wine to "licensed" dealers (stores or restaurants, but not to private consumers).  White wines and roses must be at least five years old, while reds must be at least ten years of age.  In addition to these being widely ignored, there's also a provision which says those bottles from a private collection must be labeled as such (and not part of the vendor's regular stock).
We know of a story of a fellow who trades with many businesses around Northern California.   He had sold a Chardonnay to a shop.  A person associated with the winery was curious to see this particular bottle, as the winery didn't use that bottle in the vintage associated with the label on that container! 
This, by the way, is why wineries are very foolish (especially those making collectable bottles) to furnish labels of their wines to consumers or anybody else!  Those labels should be altered in some fashion (many French producers will furnish a label marked "specimen" ) to avoid this possibility. 

 

 

Raising the Bar on Wine Scores
Thewinenews.gif (13199 bytes)Norm Roby writes in the February/March 2000 issue of The Wine News (a publication which is actually about wine, unlike some others!) some provocative ideas regarding wine criticism.

 

 

1).  "...the problem is that reviewers are giving too many A's (90 points or higher) and high B's (85 to 89)."
So, despite the fact that there are far more high quality wines in today's marketplace (compared to 5 or 10 years ago), winemakers should be penalized by critics with less praise?????
If a wine is of top quality, shouldn't it merit praise?  On the other hand, if writers use a "bell curve," as Mr. Roby suggests, in a grouping of poor wines, wouldn't critics be forced to give a commendation to something of less-than-stellar quality?


This brings up another issue I have with 100-point scoring systems....certain types of wines are penalized for not being "important" enough.  Since a ros has no "Aging Potential," it is routinely marked down by critics.  Only a knucklehead would denigrate such a wine, holding it to a standard for which it is not intended.  This makes the 100-point scale for some wines an 85 or 90 point scale.   This is never mentioned, of course.

2.  Mr. Roby suggests adjusting the scores or results of a Blind tasting after the wines have been unveiled.
What's the point of a "BLIND-TASTING"?????
A blind-tasting is supposed to allow the participants to evaluate the wines without prejudice.  They should be examining what is in their wine glass, not whose name is on the label, the prestige of the winery or the luster of the winemaker's star. 
I have often wondered if many wine writers don't play with their ratings, having participated in a tasting panel and seen reviews which differed from the results of the tasting.
One time, for example, all five panelists placed a wine in LAST PLACE in its flight of wines.  When the periodical was published, this same wine got the publication's HIGHEST RATING!   When I questioned one of the editors/tasters I was told, "We re-tasted the wine again." 

3.  Mr. Roby argues the "track record" of a winery/winemaker is "a necessary criteria under the circumstances." 
He cites a Flowers Chardonnay arriving at the same numerical score as Arrowood's Special Reserve bottling. 
     "On the hedonist's scale both initially scored 92, but they are not wines that can be said to be equal, nor could both be recommended as equally fine. 
     arrowood.gif (8145 bytes)The Arrowood was made by a gifted winemaker with more than 25 vintages under his belt.  Experienced tasters who have sampled Arrowood's Chardonnays over the years know how they hold up in the bottle.   They age well, but more importantly, they will not fall apart overnight.  Too many things could go wrong with an unproven wine.
     Once the maker's names were divulged, the panel agreed to add the category of "track record" (a necessary criteria under the circumstances), and adjust the scores accordingly.  The Arrowood special Cuve Michel Berthud (sic) Chardonnay ended up scoring three points higher than the Flowers.
     Making such an adjustment after the labels were revealed is not wrong.  In fact, I think it is a part of the professional wine reviewer's duty."
I suppose Mr. Roby thinks consumers/readers are not intelligent enough to factor in the "safety" of purchasing a wine from a proven entity.  If both wines are of excellent quality, why do you have to knock down the new-comer for simply being new? 
Why not do the same for sports teams?  Since the New York Yankees have a long and storied history AND a proven track record, why not let them start their games against the most recently-added teams with a 3-0 lead? 
Since Great Britain has been around longer than the U.S., how about letting their track entrants have a 20 meter head-start in the next Olympic races?
France is an old country....let's allow their skiers to use two poles in the slalom, but let's tell the American downhillers they can use only one pole. 

4.  Mr. Roby claims by not penalizing new wineries and winemakers for their being new has "...made it possible for newcomers to ask high prices for their inaugural and subsequent vintages.  It is totally absurd for a new winery to feel no compunction about offering a $40 Chardonnay and a $50 Cabernet."
They only succeed, of course, if consumers keep buying the wines.  This is the free market at work.  Given that wine writers should shoulder some of the blame in the amazing escalation of prices, why should a critic be the one to determine the "value" of a bottle of wine. 
I believe most consumers expect to read the critic's assessment of the wine, not so much weather it's "worth" fifty or one-hundred dollars. 
I would like to think I know what a bottle of wine is "worth," though judging from the reaction of many of the sales people we see, I'm an old "fuddy duddy" for not seeing (immediately) the value of having their $15 watery, over-cropped, but well-vinified Sauvignon Blanc or their $40, tannic-beyond belief, never-will-age-into-something-worth-drinking Cabernet.
The "market" (i.e., consumers) will ultimately decide weather these new ventures are "worth their salt." 

5.  Mr. Roby sums up the situation by writing, "The concept of having to earn consumer confidence by actually performing well over time needs to be revived and applied to the scoring of wine.  By so doing, the logjam of wines receiving ratings of 90 or more will be broken up, and the 100-point scale will gain the credibility it needs."
I am in agreement with gaining consumer confidence, though I notice many consumers are willing to buy less-than-great wines from "known" or famous wineries instead of better quality, lesser-known wines.   They are, also, willing to spend more money on these.  We, frankly, try to point out wines which represent good quality and have a favorable (for the consumer) price tag. 
My bias is that I don't believe a 100-point scoring system has validity, though I will concede there are many wines which have received 90+ scores which I wouldn't drink or recommend. 

What I found outrageous about the article is the idea of conducting a blind-tasting and adjusting the scores after unveiling the wines simply to suit the tasting judges.  

Here's a link to the entire article: thewinenews.com/febmar00/comment.html


Comments?
gerald@weimax.com

 

MY LETTER TO THE WINE SPECTATOR
regarding WINE SHIPMENTS

Time For a Boston Wine Party?
I hadn't noticed that "WineTasting" or "Wine Appreciation" classes were being offered to high school and junior high school students (and I've been subscribing to Wine Spectator for many years). Surely you would have covered this story!

Given that those courses aren't being offered to the youth of America, perhaps you can explain to me the difference between those underaged kids ordering wine via the internet (for example) from a source a thousand miles away (or more) and the same kid(s) ordering a relatively similar product (or identical, if it's available) from a business which happens to be located down the street (so to speak -- let's say the same state, for argument's sake).

And for those who argue about the loss of sales tax revenue: Then you're advocating taxing ALL mail-order/internet sales, aren't you? How about taxing computer sales from out of state? Surely your state loses significant revenue by having the UPS driver deliver a computer or camera or cookware from a source outside of your state. How about, then, taxing subscriptions to The Wine Spectator, Time magazine or the TV Guide?

At least the Colonists were able to buy Darjeeling or Earl Grey when they had The Boston Tea Party. Perhaps we need a National Wine Tasting Party and have people from coast to coast dumping Chardonnay into the sewage systems of America (I've tasted some Chardonnays recently which caused me to react in that fashion, but that's another story, boys and girls). We could invite national and local media-folk to cover such an event. If people can "hold hands across America" and other publicity-seeking stunts like that, why can't we hold a national protest by pouring out bottles of wine?

My European friends are amazed to learn that it's illegal to send a bottle of Chardonnay from San Francisco to Chicago or New York, especially since, for example, in France, the postal service recently had a "special" price for mailing wine from one part of the country to another! They have heard that America is the "land of the free and the home of the brave." Given our strange attitude toward wine shipping, perhaps we should amend this to just "home of the brave."

 

More Poor Eno-Scribing!
The folks at Cook's Illustrated might do well to stick to writing about food. While we appreciate their enthusiasm for wine, a bit of care and and expertise might be a good thing. We cite an article on "Rich Red Wines."
They excluded Bordeaux saying it's a region which "produces plenty of these wines, but almost always at hefty prices." There are 10,000 wineries there....surely someone makes a wine which is reasonably priced!
They excluded Rioja "...which is soft and pleasant...", but included a red from the neighboring region, Ribera del Duero. They dismissed Chianti because they wanted "...something more distinguished." (Poor Italy! No Chianti wines of distinction!)
The top wines were the Ribera del Duero and a jammy red from southern Italy. In the "Recommended" category is an entry sure to drive readers crazy: "1995 Ridge Geyserville Cabernet Sauvignon."
While it is not noteworthy for a Ridge wine to do well, it is somewhat of a rarity for Geyserville Cabernet to make such a strong showing. That's because Ridge doesn't make a "Geyserville Cabernet." Perhaps the Cook's panel was tasting a Zinfandel? The folks at Ridge expressed surprise when I asked them about their Geyserville Cabernet. "We've never made such a wine!"

Post-script:  The most recent editions have no Wine Tasting editorial content, so perhaps they've hung up their tastevins!

 

How "Old" are "Old Vines"?
Ever wonder where all those "old vines" Zinfandels are coming from?  Given that we're seeing a spate of bottlings with the words "old vines" on the label, perhaps it's about time someone determined exactly how old the vines are before they can be called "old."    There are, at present, no regulations, meaning it's up to the winery.  I tasted some French wines and thought the "old vines" bottling was not any more stellar than the "new vines" bottling.  "How old are the old vines," I inquired, "ten years?"  The importer's retort was classic!   "Eleven years." he said, seriously. 

 

 

 

The WALL STREET JOURNAL is Not About Wine!
Last time I checked, it was about news and the world of business and finance.  Yet they have a couple of people writing a weekly (or is that, "weakly?") wine column.  Poor folks writing this might be well-intentioned, but we'd appreciate it if they'd do their homework and a bit more research.  Richard Kinssies, whose work frequently is seen in Seattle's Post-Intelligencer, criticizes a book of WSJ columns in his November 3, 1999 column with this:
"But there is a big difference between reporting on brain surgery, for instance, and actually giving advice to people who are in need of the procedure. I could overlook their lack of knowledge of the subject they write about if they did no harm, but that is not always the case. Frequently, however, I have seen the two offer misinformation and bad advice."
Anyone writing a column in such a widely-read publication would do well to have some benchmark wines in their tastings.  Merely picking six bottles off the shelf and reporting the results of their findings as though this was "scientific" if sheer folly.
Recommended wines have included such stellar bottlings as Gallo's "Paisano," Hahn Chardonnay and Bogle Chardonnay.
In May 2001, the WSJ pulled the plug on its web site wine scribblings, though I believe they still write a column which appears in the printed edition on Fridays.

 

This IS "Marketing"? 
Read the fine print!
Consumers should be aware that certain American wineries and their marketing geniuses are demonstrating the "Caveat emptor" theme.  Read the fine print! 
You might find a certain winery with a Carneros Chardonnay is selling a wine in a virtually identical package but with a "Napa" appellation and at a lower price.   A certain Sonoma cellar has Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc for the mainstream wine market, but dumps cheaper, inferior "California" appellation Sauvignon in some chain stores and restaurants.  These wine have virtually identical labels, so expecting the consumer to notice the difference is asking a lot.  What they're banking on, of course, is that people will think they're "getting a good deal," when they're actually getting the shaft. 
Caveat emptor!

 

GOSSIP
This story made me giggle!  A fellow who is well-known in the world of wine ambles in to a New York wine shop with his first wife (they've since divorced) and is looking for a wine for Thanksgiving dinner.   The clerk in the shop (from whom I heard this tale) goes over to "help."   It seems she is looking at nice wines, while he's got a couple of bottles of last year's Nouveau Beaujolais out of the "junk bin" to take to her folks' place for Turkey Day.  Well, we know who the turkey is/was!

 

Corkage Fee Savings
A customer came into the shop looking for two rather pedestrian wines.  He and the wife were dining with two other couples at a fancy San Francisco restaurant and this fellow, an accountant, calculated that since these wines were $25 on the wine list and the corkage fee was a modest $10, he might as well bring his own bottles, since he could score these for $13 retail.   "I'm saving two bucks a bottle!" he proudly announced. 
Please!  Do yourself and your guests a favor.  If you are bringing your own wine to a restaurant, please be certain it is something truly special.  Don't embarrass yourself with schlepping bottles of "grocery store" wines into a fine dining establishment.  Not unless you've had the word "stupid" tattooed on your forehead.

 

WINE SPECTATOR TOP WINES of 1999
This may be a concept beyond the grasp of the folks at The Wine Spectator, but I am certain you, dear reader, will understand this: 
Shouldn't the "Top Wine of 1999" be a wine which is released sometime during the year 1999?
Apparently not in the minds of The Dictator crew!  Their top wine, a 1996 vintage Chateau St. Jean wine called "Cinq Cepages" (based on Bordeaux varieties), was not released until February of 2000!

<< Knock, knock, knock!!! HELLLLoooooooooo!>>
If you're a subscriber, you might want to call them and ask about this.
The Phone Number is
(212) 684-4224

While this may not seem, on the face of it, to be a "serious" issue, this should cause you to give it some consideration.
Here is a publication which claims to be impartial and independent.  Yet, to be rating a wine which is bottled but not in distribution clearly points out the publication (like most others) accepts samples from the producers whose products the publication will critique.  As consumers, how do WE know the product in distribution is the same exact product which has been "rated" by the wine critic?
Two wineries in New Zealand were exposed for having submitted samples to a wine judging which were not the same wines which were in distribution.
I wouldn't put much faith in a food critic who is on the payroll of a restaurant.   I wouldn't pay much attention to the film reviewer who accepts freebies from movie studios.  Yet people, every day of the week, don't think twice about listening to a wine critic whose "tastes" we know little about and who accepts samples and, in the Dictator's case, payment (in the form of advertising dollars or participation in the Spectator's Wine Experience events, to name two) from the industry which it claims to impartially criticize.
<< Knock, knock, knock!!! HELLLLoooooooooo!>>

 

A WINE SALES PITCH
One of our favorite salespeople arrives in the shop with a representative of a small French winery.  The bottles are opened and lined up for our evaluation. 
Believe it or not, we've tasted wine before this particular occasion!
The young man, whose family owns the vineyard and winery, begins to babble about each offering, explaining the blend, despite this notation on the label.  We are regaled with tales of how popular these wines are in various locales in America (the wines, it seems, are tailored for our market in some fashion) and how they aren't interested in selling these to the French.  The wines were somewhat better than previous vintages, but still not measuring up to their price tags in our humble opinions.   The young fellow chattered away, trying to tell us the salient points of each wine, but we were tasting them faster than he could tell his stories.  Finally, the last wine was, at least, half-way interesting and we finished our tasting. There hadn't been a moment of silence during the entire period we were sampling this fellow's wares. He continued yapping about the wines and then concluded the presentation with this:
"I think our wines speak for themselves." 
Uh huh.

 

 

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