It happens. Not often, but it happens: Matt Kramer and I agree on a wine. In this case, three wines.
Kramer had just led a seminar of Portuguese and Spanish wines from terraced vineyards, and I complimented him on his wine selections, which momentarily caught him off balance.
"I'm happy," I offered in jest. "Your palate is really coming around."
Last week, while in New York for the Wine Spectator Wine Experience, many people brought up Kermit Lynch's interview in the New York Times, in which he discusses high-alcohol wines, the 100-point rating system, terroir and natural wines, among other hot-button wine topics. I have a few thoughts of my own to offer …
Lynch isn't much a fan of California wine, yet it appears that he disqualifies himself from passing judgment on the mere basis that he hasn't and doesn't follow California's wines as closely as many. His import business is based in St. Helena, in Napa Valley, run by a Napa vintner, Bruce Neyers, and I suspect Lynch pays far greater attention to California wine than he allows. He is, after all, a businessman who competes against California.
"Mocha" has worked its way into my vocabulary as a wine descriptor over the past decade or so. I use it in reference to the aroma of a caffè mocha, particularly that dusting of cocoa powder on top of the foamed milk.
I first used "mocha" as a tasting descriptor in the magazine in 1998. In 2000, it appeared in 43 Cailfornia wine reviews and 150 Wine Spectator reviews from around the world; in 2005, it appeared in 134 and 246, respectively. So far this year, "mocha" has popped up in 232 reviews of California wines (out of more than 3,700 total), and it's been used in 614 reviews of nearly 20,000 wines around the world, so it's not just me: Mocha's popularity as a tasting descriptor is at an all-time high.
But where does that mocha aroma come from?
Before I made wine, I picked grapes.
Yesterday I relived my first harvest as I watched a crew pick a Pinot Noir vineyard in Carneros. The first time I picked grapes was in 1979, when I joined a team harvesting Pinot Noir at Winery Lake Vineyard, not far from where I watched yesterday morning's harvest.
Charles Woodson, whose 2009 Calistoga Cabernet earned outstanding marks in last week's California Tasting Highlights, owes at least part of his fascination with wine to the Oakland Raiders. The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner was drafted in the first round in 1998 by the Raiders, who hold their training camp in the city of Napa, gateway to the valley. During a visit to Napa recently, Woodson presented all of his wines dating to the 2001 Merlot and the Cabernets from 2005 to 2009. All of the wines were exceptional.
Terroir can be an endlessly entertaining intellectual exercise. There’s little denying the role of the winemaker in creating any wine, but how does one measure that against the signature of the site? Here’s how a trio of Americans put terroir to a hands-on test.
The ground rules for the Cube Project were simple: three winemakers, three vineyards from three appellations, from three different vintages, 2010 to 2012. Each of the winemakers—Thomas Houseman of Anne Amie in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton appellation, Andrew Brooks of Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros and Leslie Mead Renaud of Foley Estate and Lincourt in Santa Barbara—shared 6 tons of grapes (2 tons each) from their respective vineyards, resulting in nine different wines each year. Each winemaker determined the pick date of their vineyard, all from Pommard clones, meaning each winemaker started out with grapes at the same level of ripeness, measured in sugar, or Brix.