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james laube's wine flights

Snappy New Slogan

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Dec 22, 2006 10:00am ET

On Wednesday, I had lunch with St. Supéry CEO Michaela Rodeno and her winemaker, Michael Beaulac.

They poured a couple of new wines, the 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc and the 2003 Rutherford Cabernet, both of which were fruity, supple, balanced and complex.

But the big surprise was a 1996 Napa Valley Meritage, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. At age 10, it remains refreshingly youthful, with a mix of citrus, honey and subtle butterscotch notes.

We talked about the wine business, their business and the growth of their wine club, which sells specially bottled wines not available to the broader market directly to its members. Wine clubs are becoming a bigger part of many wineries’ business, Rodeno said.

We had a playful discussion about the differences between men and women when it comes to wine, a subject that I blogged about last month.

And we talked about wine reviews, ratings, the importance of blind tastings and the fact that any of us can easily be humbled by a blind tasting.

Even winemakers who should know their wines intimately often are unable to pick theirs out of a blind flight, and worse, there are times when they can't identify a flight of several of their wines.

That led us into a conversation about how uncomfortable blind tastings can be with those who think they know a lot about wine, and are more than willing to share their knowledge and views—even when they're wrong. Rodeno offered a phrase to describe these people that I wrote down and plan to use: “Often wrong, but never in doubt.”

Not bad. A slogan for wine geeks who think they know everything.

You might want to remember it for the next time you find yourself in a debate with a wine geek who won't let go.

James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  December 22, 2006 11:54am ET
Great slogan, James...seems like it could also be applied to some of our elected officials. Anyway, have a great holiday!
Allan Bass
Macon, GA —  December 22, 2006 12:40pm ET
I am a contestant on a reality show called "The Winemakers" set for PBS next fall. While in Paso Robles this October, the 12 contestants had a blind tasting of 5 reds and 5 whites but we had the advantage of winemakers tasting notes to help us (along with some notes from wines not represented to add to the challenge). I'm not supposed to reveal the results until the show airs, butI think all the contestants would definitely use the word "HUMBLING"! And there was certainly a LOT of confidence at the table before the tasting...
Paul Manchester
Santa Cruz, CA —  December 22, 2006 12:51pm ET
I agree, blind tastings are the great equalizer. I'm amazed at how tough it is to identify wines that I thought I knew well at blind tastings. I learned my lesson and now I try to take the humble approach and never think I know very much, especially when I'm with appreciative friends that think I know a lot. But on the other side of it, blind tastings are great for finding out what you really like without any preconceived notions. In one blind tasting I did with friends I thought I had a "ringer", which was a very solid 1994 Napa Cab. but was surprised to find that my favorite wine was a 2001 Cab that cost 1/3rd as much as my 1994 Cab. Interestingly the 2 wines were from the same winery, so at least I got that part right. Keep up the great work James, I love your blogs and appreciate your willingness to admit when you fall short from time to time. MERRY CHRISTMAS and a stokeful new year!!!!!!!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 22, 2006 9:35pm ET
Allan, let me know when you're ready to talk...
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  December 23, 2006 12:35am ET
Hey Allan, how did you make it onto the show? Are they opting for another season just yet? Any contacts you can give me? I'm an amateur obsessionist score whore and would love to be on the next season. I can be contacted at troypeterson@usa.net or (818) 842-5625. I can't wait to see the episodes!
John Wilen
Texas —  December 23, 2006 1:38pm ET
Is Robert Parker taking the high road or the low road with his latest assessment of Napa vintages? Is it appropriate for him to call out JL in public like he has?

In his new issue, RP puts the following in print on Page 1:

"I am obviously aware of the scathing criticism many [Northern California] Cabernets received from The Wine Spectator, but I disagree with most of their observations. I believe this [2003] is a very good to excellent vintage, and significantly better than such vintages as 2000, 1999, and 1998."

"Make no mistake about it, 2004 is not 2002 or 2001."

With these key sentences, RP is severely criticizing JL and his ratings of 1999, 2003 and 2004. Always the gracious rival, now RP has taken the gloves off. Is it to curry favor with wineries and wine retailers? Does RP sense an opportunity to score points? Is this strategy that of a leader or a follower? Can and should JL respond?
Steve Barber
Clayton, CA. —  December 23, 2006 6:09pm ET
This is a sales strategy in the sense that WS has the share and, What's RP going to do about it? Agree? Has anyone has several 2003's....Laube's right on in that the mid-palate depth and concentration is not their (merlot not coming in, and the austere nature of the vintage. Check the ego's at the door, and let's taste some wine!
Mark Mccullough
GA —  December 23, 2006 8:02pm ET
"I believe this [2003] is a very good to excellent vintage," This is why I don't rely on RP at all. Besides his skewed scoring in general, he is out to lunch on the '03 vintage.I agree with Steve and with JL's assessment of this vintage based on what I have tasted. I am skipping '03s and buying up my favorites still left from '02. All you who disagree, don't argue just get out there and buy up the '03s!!
Mark Mccullough
GA —  December 23, 2006 8:08pm ET
"[2003]...(is) significantly better than such vintages as 2000, 1999, and 1998." 2003 better than 1999? Not even close!!
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  December 24, 2006 2:52am ET
Humbling is the right word Mr. Bass!Those with strong opinions are still worth hearing however. That is the trick in building a cellar that satisfies ¿your¿ palate. Listening to all the ¿critics¿ and finding those whose tastes match your own is paramount in discovering wines to acquire for your personal consumption. If R.P. says a wine is fine but H.S. says the stuff is ruff, you need to know with whom you palate agrees. Their both experts and their opinions and views are both representative of countless others around the world. Chances are your tastes will run consistently more akin with one or the other. So listen more intently to those that share your view. It¿s not just human nature . . . its common sense. Also remember that; ¿One person with a belief is equal to 99 who have only interests." -John Stuart Mill
Gregory Beall
Grand Marais, MN —  December 24, 2006 11:14pm ET
Jim,A similar phrase is long been used to describe certain people in the medical field,"Not always right, but never in doubt!"happy holidays.
Maynard James Keenan
page Springs, az —  December 25, 2006 1:22pm ET
"Often wrong, but never in doubt."This may end up on a t-shirt. Public domain? Do I need to include a credit? copyright Ms Rodeno?sidenote... the 04 and 05 Cab in my Sensei Blend is from a Pope Valley vineyard which I believe is owned by the Rodeno family. Can I assume they are one in the same?
Michael Lemanski
Wichita, Ks —  December 25, 2006 1:31pm ET
Jim, since 2001, the ratings for California Cabernets have taken a serious trend toward exposing flawed or unfavorable wines. In the 1999 rating issue there were three wines rated 79 or lower. The 2000 issue rated 8 wines at 79 or lower. The 2001 ratings had 49 wines rated at 79 or below ¿ this is the year I started counting. Since then, the 2002 issue had 60 wines rated at 79 or below and the newest issue has 65 wines rated 79 or below. Going back on the Web site, there are parbably only a dozen 1998 California Cab's with a less than an 80 rating. Did ratinggs change or are there so many more wines that rate lower? Would love to hear from you on this...
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 25, 2006 1:54pm ET
Maynard, what a happy coincidence! I had you on my to-do list to write to say how happy we are to have you as a fellow blogger. I think the slogan is up for grabs (want to go in together?), the Rodenos do own a vineyard, though I'm not sure it's in Pope Valley (they have a vineyard on the valley floor). But I know St. Supery does have vineyard there, so perhaps there is a connection. Anyway, let me know the next time you're headed through Napa or the Bay Area. I'll loan you the keys to my cellar.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 25, 2006 2:06pm ET


Michael, my main issue with California wines of late has nothing to do with me having a different palate. It has everything to do with what I addressed in my column, "Runaway Ripeness," which you can read online (go to site search and put that title in).

So in years such as 2001 and 2002, plenty of wines crossed my boundaries for VA and Brett. 1998, which was a cool year, didn't have overripeness as an issue (underripe, with herbal flavors, was more common that year). When wines have a balsamic (usually high VA) or leathery or melted plastic character (Brett) I find them unappealing, though I'm sure many others love them and find those elements add complexity. Also, you have to keep in mind that our ratings breakdown lists wines in the 75-79 range "may have minor flaws."

It's been years since I've really liked the style of, say, Turley's Zinfandels. I can appreciate the style, and consider them well made in that style, but I don't like wines that to my taste are overripe. So it's more a function of vintage conditions (ripeness) and I expect we'll see more balanced wines in the future. Many winemakers have told me of their problems with the aformentioned flaws.

That answer your querry?
Lawrence Katz
Cleveland, Oho —  December 26, 2006 4:15pm ET
Recently had an interesting blind tasting experience. It was held by a leading winery at an upscale restaurant where they showed us how they blended their wine. There were glasses of cab,pinot noir, cab franc and petite verdo if I remember correctly. After an explanation and tasting of the individual wines that go into their meritage, there was a contest to make your own blend as close to the original as possible.Well, we had been doing more drinking than tasting so I just took a glass of their meritage and put my number on it. There must have been about 30 blends submitted to the 3 judges...one from the winery, one from the distributor and the restaurant manager. I was floored when they picked my wine as closest to the original, which it was!
Michael Lemanski
Wichita, Ks —  December 26, 2006 6:43pm ET
Thanks - it does. Thanks
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 26, 2006 7:13pm ET
John, not sure what road Parker's on, but probably his own. I don't consider an 85 point rating for the 2003 (or 2000) vintage scathing. It's still in the very good range by our charts. Whether he actually disagrees with most of the ratings, well, someone will have to compare the numbers. I'm not interested. As for 2004, I consider it better than 2003, though I haven't been floored by the wines and think 2002 and 2001 are the best of recent vintages. As for him taking "off the gloves," well, that may be your view, but I can handle a few jabs. Critics should do their best to advise their readers about wines -- good and bad -- and if critics disagree, then that's healthy, too. I do wish more critics would use the fuller range of scores, including Parker, and not stop at 85 points, which seems to be the cutoff point these days. That would tell readers more about the wines he doesn't like.
Maynard James Keenan
page Springs, az —  December 27, 2006 10:28am ET
You don't want to lend me your cellar keys. Are you forgetting the cliche' "party like a rock star?"(also on a t-shirt somewhere.) I would hate to see a grown man crying over the aftermath.
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  December 27, 2006 4:49pm ET
James, I agree with your point concerning what amounts to a compression of various incarnations of the 100-point scale: it's akin to grade inflation in academia where anything below a B is considered abysmal. It seems that, at present, the consumer is faced with what amounts to a 20-point scale. Unfortunately, I suspect that renormalizing the curve would result in a few rocky years for the consumer and more than a few irritated winemakers (I can hear the chorus explanations/rationalizations now: "I know it got 84 points, but that was after The Shift. In 2006 this would have gotten a 92!"). Not really sure how one could effectively change things at this point. I'm with you in spirit...in practice it could be a bit tricky!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 27, 2006 4:56pm ET
James, it's more like a 10 point scale 85-95...The key is reading what those numbers mean, and for each publication, it's a little different.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  December 27, 2006 9:44pm ET
Another important key in the whole "score" thing is to carefully read the tasting notes. Mr laube and parker, whether or not you agree with them, are at least reasonably consistent in their descriptions of wine (hey...its their job; as I hope my surgeries are reasonably consistent between patients!). I base my purchase decisions more on how they describe the wines -- I like "cedary and vanilla oak", mineral and ripe fruit without raisny flavors, hate brett and VA and their associated flavors etc, etc. If you keep tab of what you like and dislike, then you can use the scores to make an accurate purchasing decision on future wines.
Tina Cao
Oakville, CA —  January 2, 2007 7:12pm ET
Ms. Rodeno would like Maynard to know that he needn't fear copyright infringement on "Often wrong, but never in doubt." It's too useful to be restricted. Also, the Rodenos do in fact own a vineyard in Pope Valley in addition to their Oakville property. Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese is the only wine bottled from the Pope Valley vineyard -- the rest of the grapes (bordeaux varietals) are sold. It sounds as if some of the Rodeno Vds 2004 bulk Cabernet found its way into the Sensei Blend. Wine moves in mysterious ways.

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